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Washington State University

SoE Education and Research Reports

Posted by rdsayler | November 22, 2022

Canada lynx
[Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). Source: Wikipedia. Author: Michael Zahra. License: CC BY-SA 3.0]
Climate Refuge? Canada Lynx in Glacier National Park 

Canada lynx are well known as a relatively specialist predator, well adapted to hunt in deep snow and prey upon snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus). The up and down population cycles of snowshoe hare followed by Canada lynx provide ecology students with a classic example of coupled predator-prey cycles.

Canada lynx are a cold-adapted species and occur at the southern limits of their distribution in the contiguous United States. Consequently, Glacier National Park (GNP) is important as a large protected area harboring lynx, but the species has been difficult to census and accurately determine population status.

Recently, Alissa K. Anderson, former SoE graduate student, Dr. Dan Thornton, Director of the Mammal Spatial Ecology & Conservation Lab, and their colleague, John S. Waller, used an extensive system of photographic camera traps to automatically and remotely capture photos of animals using trails and habitats with the Park.

By identifying individuals through unique leg markings and by carefully modeling the population via repeated sightings of individuals, researchers were able to estimate that GNP contained about 52 individuals and at a density of about 1.3/100 km2.

Because of the warming and range-shifting impacts of climate change, they concluded that GNP is potentially an important site to maintain future lynx populations in the United States as well as monitor their population to determine conservation status.

See full story at: WSU Insider 

See publication: The Journal of Wildlife Management – Canada lynx occupancy and density in Glacier National Park 

Images of wildlife from camera traps on Kamiak Butte Natural Sciences Education

Teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging for everyone, no matter if it was in K-12, higher education, or elsewhere. However, our Dr. William Schlosser, or “Dr. Bill” as students often call him, not only accepted that challenge but used wildlife camera traps, drones, and other high-tech solutions to enrich his course, SoE 300 Natural Resource Ecology, for students during and after the pandemic.

By developing an immersive virtual ecology platform to supplement instruction and engage students, Bill not only succeeded in making the course more interesting and highly dynamic for students, but his blended delivery curriculum has continued to expand and support his live in-person class and its popular field trips to the Kamiak Butte ecosystem near WSU.

Recently, Bill and several colleagues had a new publication accepted for the journal Natural Sciences Education, describing his educational approaches.

See: Natural Sciences Education – Hybrid Classroom Approach: Virtual & Live Field Data Integration 

Go Exploring for Yourself! See: Virtual Ecology  

Quinault Lake Cedar once the largest western red cedar
[The Quinault Lake Redcedar, once the world’s largest western redcedar. Source: Wikipedia. Author: Wsiegmund. License: CC BY 2.5]
Canary in the Forest? Dieback of Western Redcedar in the Pacific Northwest

A team of SoE researchers are part of a group of scientists looking at how climate variability is affecting increasing tree mortality and extensive canopy dieback for the western redcedar (Thuja plicata), a large and iconic tree species in the Pacific Northwest, .

Drs. Robert Andrus, Arjan Meddens, Kevan Moffett, and Henry Adams along with doctoral student, L. Peach and other colleagues from Washington State University and elsewhere used tree ring analysis to identify climate and environmental factors associated with tree mortality, canopy dieback, and growth rates.

They discovered that tree mortality was often preceded by 4-5 years of declining radial growth and was associated with warmer and drier conditions in May and June, which extended the normal summer dry season. For interior populations, tree mortality coincided with warmer, drier conditions from August to September.

The implications of their findings are not good for sensitive trees in Pacific Northwest forests, which are a large carbon sink, but are facing a warming climate and more severe droughts.

Dr. Henry Adams suspects that forests in the Pacific Northwest could be entering a “tipping point” leading to even more deaths because of ongoing climate change and shifting environmental conditions (see: Columbia Insight).

View a Publication Pre-print: Canary in the Forest? 

Doctoral Candidate, Dmitri Kalashnikov, Wins AGU and AMS Presentation Awards:

SoE doctoral student, Dmitri Kalashnikov, a NASA FINESST fellow, has recently received three awards for outstanding presentations at scientific conferences. These include the “Outstanding Student Presentation Award” for 2022 from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and two additional awards for student oral presentations at the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting 2023 .

The AGU award was for Dmitri’s presentation “How dry is “dry” lightning? Quantifying precipitation amounts associated with lightning-caused wildfire ignition across the western U.S.” while the the AMS awards were for the presentations “Climatology and driving atmospheric patterns of widespread dry lightning outbreaks in central and northern California” as well as for a second paper presented at the associated AMS – 14th Conference on Environment and Health, “Increasing co-occurrence of fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone extremes in the western United States (see: abstract).

All of these scientific presentations are based on Dmitri’s dissertation research on the interplay of meteorological conditions, physical drivers, and impacts of dry thunderstorms in the western U.S., which are a major source of wildfire ignitions and associated air pollutants (e.g., fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone).

Dmitri works in the Climate Extremes Lab of SoE faculty member, Dr. Deepti Singh, and his dissertation research is funded by the NASA Future Investigators in Earth and Space Sciences Program.

For more information, see: Climate Extremes Lab

[Mountain huckleberry. Photo by: Katja Schulz. Source: Wikipedia. License: CC BY 2.0 Generic.]


SoE graduate student, Margaret Magee
[SoE graduate student, Margaret Magee, conducting small-scale prescribed burns to evaluate the role of downed logs in influencing the survival and growth of huckleberries. Photo by Dr. Mark Swanson.]
Bears, Berries & Woodland Debris

Who doesn’t love fresh, sweet berries? Black bears and grizzly bears certainly do as they pack on energy reserves to prepare for hibernation, so it should be no surprise that the native mountain huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) is highly prized by people and wildlife.

SoE graduate student, Margaret Magee, and Dr. Mark Swanson and their colleagues, Drs. Henry Adams and Arjan Meddens, and others, are studying how small-scale prescribed fires and the presence of logs and other woody debris in forests may improve the survival and growth of huckleberries in the hot, dry future of climate change.

In the Inland Northwest, east of the Cascade Range, the summers naturally tend to be hot and dry which challenges the growth and survival of huckleberry shrubs, particularly newly-planted seedlings. However, climate change, heat, drought, and wildfires will exacerbate these environmental conditions and may likely force changes in huckleberry distribution and forest communities across landscapes.

By conducting experimental studies of how downed logs create favorable microclimates by modifying soil moisture, temperature, and other factors, SoE investigators hope to look at the sheltering effects of woodland debris on huckleberries, including how prescribed fires might be used as huckleberry and forest restoration tools.

The SoE research team is working on lands of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe (Schitsu’umsh) and in a variety of other sites, including the Priest River Experimental Forest in Idaho and the E.H. Steffen Center on the WSU Pullman campus.

Full story at: WSU Insider 


Human Disturbance and the Landscape Ecology of Fear

A recent SoE study of the effects of low-level human recreational activities (e.g., hiking) on the behavior of wildlife during the partial COVID-19 lockdown of Glacier National Park in 2020 is generating considerable interest among the public and for agencies managing natural landscapes (i.e., parks, forests, conservation areas).

The study, conducted by Alissa K. Anderson, SoE graduate student, Dr. Dan Thornton, Director of the Mammal Spatial Ecology & Conservation Lab, and their colleague, John S. Waller from the National Park Service., used automated photographic surveys conducted by camera-trap sampling to document areas along hiking trails used by both humans and a wide variety of animals.

They found consistent negative effects of human presence on many wildlife species, including large carnivores (e.g., cougars, grizzly bears, wolves), medium-size or meso-carnivores (e.g., lynx), or herbivores (e.g., mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk).

The temporary COVID-19 lockdown provided a so-called “natural experiment” on the effects of human activities on wildlife that would otherwise be quite difficult to conduct over such a large area as a national park.

The study helps illustrate that additional research would be helpful to better understand how the timing, intensity, or type of human disturbance can subtly affect behavior of different species of wildlife and thereby guide better conservation and management strategies, particularly given a broad pattern of increasing human presence and recreation on public lands.

Full story at: WSU Insider
Journal publication: Scientific Reports

Dead butterflies and bees Bug Splat Ecology:

You may have heard about the “Insect Apocalypse” or possibly the “Colony Collapse Disorder” of honey bees, but you may not know that if you drive or ride in a vehicle, your car could be used as a “splatometer” to measure changes in insect abundance.

See: SoE Feature Story – Bug Splat Ecology 

Droning On in Higher Education: Combining Field and Virtual Ecology With Our Own “Dr. Bill”

When is a university lecture not really a lecture? One answer to that question is when you’re taking a course in ecology in the School of the Environment and find yourself out in the field or talking to Dr. William Schlosser, or “Dr. Bill” as students affectionately like to call him. Lectures just seem more like friendly, excited conversations when you’re with Dr. Bill and studying the ecology of plants, animals, and their supporting ecosystems.

One of the defining features of university courses for majors in the School of the Environment is a heavy dose of get-your-hands-dirty fieldwork, field trips, and studies conducted in outdoor settings and natural areas. However, unless your class is a relatively small handful of students, arranging for transportation, housing, meals, etc., for larger numbers of people can be difficult.

Plus, accessibility is a major concern to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in field trips and outdoor studies. And what do you do if the weather just happens to be especially bad during a scheduled field trip?

Dr. Bill addresses these challenges by developing a blended approach to his large and popular class in general ecology by using technology, such as drones and wildlife camera traps, to engage students and help them more fully experience the wonders of the natural world during semester-long projects at the unique quartz-dome ecosystem found at nearby Kamiak Butte County Park.

See: WSU Insider 

Video: To sample some of the drone, wildlife camera trap, and class video clips, see the YouTube channel: WSU Virtual Ecology.

Salmon redds in river bottom Using Drones to Count Salmon Nests:

Daniel Auerbach, doctoral student, and Dr. Alex Fremier of the WSU School of the Environment report that drones can be used effectively to count salmon nest sites (redds) in streams in a new paper published in River Research and Applications. They counted potential redds for Chinook salmon in the Wenatchee River (WA, USA) and found that aerial counts frequently identified twice the number of redds as reported by ground surveys. 

See: WSU Insider 

Aerial view of Grand Coulee Dam Nature Geoscience: Dams, Reservoirs, & Methane Emissions

Dr. John Harrison, Professor in the School of the Environment at WSU Vancouver, and the colleagues he works with are concerned about greenhouse gas emissions from the reservoirs created behind the thousands of dams worldwide. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, this investigative team analyzed data from 9,000 reservoirs on 5 continents to determine their CO2 and methane emissions from 1900 to 2060.

They discovered that while carbon dioxide emissions are decreasing from reservoirs as they age, methane emissions are increasing, which will likely increase the impact of reservoirs on climate change because of the powerful warming effect of methane.

But can anything be done about these methane emissions? John says, yes, by changing the way water is withdrawn from the reservoir for turbines or spillways, it may be possible to reduce these emissions. A WSU research team will be looking at water management strategies and ecosystem properties in a series of reservoirs in the Pacific Northwest. 

See: WSU Insider 

Henry Adams Nature Communications: Watching Trees Die

Climate change is challenging the conservation and management of global forests through rapidly shifting patterns of fire and intense heat and drought. In a recent paper in the journal, Nature Communications, our Dr. Henry Adams joined other forest ecology researchers to analyze global forest die-off events.  Using climate model data they documented at what point increased heat and drought was associated with forest death.

See: WSU Insider 

Scientific Reports: Are Bears Really Carnivores?

After seeing so many pictures of brown bears catching salmon in Alaskan rivers, many people might naturally think that all bears are carnivores and eat a diet heavy in meat and protein. However, in a new study published in Scientific Reports, Dr. Charles T. Robbins, wildlife biology professor in the School of the Environment, and his colleagues report that bears are omnivores like humans and captive bears often preferred diets mimicking nutritional characteristics of their natural diets in the wild.

See: WSU Insider 

Environmental Research: Climate  –  Dry Lightening & Western Wildfires

Dmitri Kalashnikov, doctoral student in the School of the Environment, Vancouver, and Dr. Deepti Singh, and their colleagues recently analyzed the climatology of dry lightning in central and northern California in an open access paper published in Environmental Research: Climate. Using records from 1987-2020 for daily lightning and precipitation observations, they reanalyzed atmospheric and meteorological conditions and learned that about 46% of all lightning during the warm season (May-Oct.) was dry lightning. Their hope is that better understanding of the meteorology of dry lightning in this region can help forecast wildfire ignitions and improve wildfire risk assessment in climate projections.

See: WSU Insider 

Survival of Mule Deer Fawns in SE Washington

Rebecca Lumkes, graduate student in the School of the Environment, and Dr. Lisa Shipley, have been studying how agriculture and federal conservation programs are affecting the use of habitat for mule deer in SE Washington State. By tracking the movements of radio-collared does, Lumkes is able to document spatial and ecological features of habitats used by mule deer, especially during the critical fawning season.

See: WSU Insider 

Fire smoke obscures the sun in the Snake River Valley
Fire smoke obscures the sun in the Snake River Valley
Science Advances: Air Pollution from Western Wildfires

Dmitri Kalashnikov, WSU doctoral student, and Dr. Deepti Singh, reported in the journal, Science Advances, that the co-occurrence of multiple air pollutants from western wildfires increased significantly between 2001 – 2020 for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone. Air pollution is a critical and increasing global health problem and has substantial negative effects on humans and natural ecosystems.

See: WSU Insider 

Science: How Cars Kill Salmon

When people think about salmon dying before they can return from the ocean and swim back upstream into rivers and streams to spawn, they might think about dams, stream-blocking culverts, or agricultural runoff, but probably not the tires on their vehicles. But they should according to Dr. Jenifer McIntyre, School of the Environment, stationed in Puyallup.

The puzzling deaths of Coho salmon in streams before they could spawn was a major environmental mystery until Dr. McIntyre and her colleagues discovered that a highly toxic chemical (6PPD-quinone) coming from tire wear particles was the likely culprit. Now the hunt is on for safer chemicals to protect tires from ozone but also vulnerable salmon in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

See: WSU Insider (Story 1; Story 2)

Frontiers in Environmental Science: Generating Enthusiasm for Science in High School Students

Dr. Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens, School of the Environment, Vancouver, worked with colleagues from Washington State University to establish the Columbia River Estuary Science Education and Outreach (CRESCENDO) Project to engage students from five public high schools in scientific research.

High school students were enthusiastic about working with university scientists, collecting and contributing “real” data to a study (e.g., water samples, salinity and temperature measurements, plankton samples, etc.), and working outdoors in a science class. This project illustrated the value of place-based education and using local environments to help students study the natural world.

Not surprisingly (to us in SoE anyway), Gretchen and her colleagues found that many students increased their ecological knowledge and understanding of scientific research by participating in this project and suggests that university-school partnerships can benefit many students and perhaps increase interest in STEM disciplines.

See: Frontiers in Environmental Science 

Smoke from WA fires covers the sun Video Interview: Western Wildfires Affect Midwestern Severe Weather

Dmitri Kalashnikov, Ph.D. Candidate in the WSU School of the Environment, was recently asked to comment on a new study that reported that western wildfires can influence severe weather much farther away in the Central U.S.

See: New study finds significant impacts from western wildfires on severe weather in Central US 

[Photo credit: Sky filled with smoke from fires in Washington State. By R. Sayler.]

Photo of western red cedar in Vancouver Tipping Points for Pacific Northwest Forests?

As climate change and the effects of heat, drought, fires, insects, and disease increase in the Pacific Northwest, an iconic tree may be showing the effects of climate stress. A recent article in The Columbian tells the story of mysterious deaths being observed for the Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) here in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Henry Adams, School of the Environment, and other researchers from Washington State University, Portland State University, Reed College, and elsewhere are quoted in the article and discuss observations and implications of tree mortality.

See: The Columbian – Has this iconic Northwest tree reached a tipping point? 

[Photo credits: Western red cedar in Vancouver. Source: Wikipedia. Author: abdallahh. License: CC BY 2.0]

Photo of jaguar Landscape Ecology & Conservation of Wild Cats and Large-Mammals

One of the most popular news stories at Washington State University in 2021 and continuing to the present is the work of graduate students in the Mammal Spatial Ecology and Conservation Lab of Dr. Daniel Thornton. More than 423 million potential readers, viewers, and subscribers of several news publications were treated to a popular science news story showing rare footage of a jaguar killing an ocelot at a waterhole in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala.

Lucy Perera-Romero, doctoral student in the School of the Environment, published these observations in the journal Biotropica to highlight the competition for limited resources (e.g., watering holes) that may occur among carnivores and other large animals, especially as climate change and human land use and development affect natural ecosystems.

The spatial and landscape ecology of mid-large sized animals is increasingly studied over large geographic areas using camera traps and other techniques to identify and non-invasively census wildlife species and generate what are called habitat occupancy models to identify ecological factors influencing animal distributions.

Several new study results from this SoE research lab will soon be published on ocelots, jaguars, Canadian lynx, Baird’s tapir, giant anteater, and other species and we will continue to highlight them in SoE Science News.

See: WSU Insider 

[photo credit: By MarcusObal – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,]

See more stories at: SoE Science News