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Grizzlies are returning to WA’s North Cascades. How will that work?

Among the jagged peaks of the North Cascades, lush alpine meadows rich with berries and wildflowers blanket valleys carved by glaciers, some threaded with trickling creeks. But these idyllic landscapes are missing one big thing that had helped sustain them over the millennia: grizzly bears.

That will soon change after federal officials decided last month to reintroduce grizzlies here, where there hasn’t been a confirmed sighting of the species in nearly three decades.

One study examining samples of spruce needles from trees growing up to 500 meters (1,640 feet) away from Alaska salmon streams found that about 17% of nitrogen 30 feet up in the air came from salmon and about 82% of it had passed through a grizzly bear.

If salmon can be recovered in significant numbers where bears live, they can be a critical link in moving ocean-derived nutrients into high elevation terrestrial environments, said Charles Robbins, a co-author on the studies and a professor and director of research at the Washington State University Bear Center. This would have an effect on all plants.

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Seattle Times
Star Telegram
The Columbian

‘Growth mindset’ improves first-generation college students’ grades

A study conducted by Washington State University (WSU) has found that notifying students of their instructors’ growth mindset results in better grades for first generation students.

Growth mindset refers to “the belief that abilities are not innate but can be improved.”

WSU psychology researcher and lead author of the study Elizabeth Canning and graduate student Makita White used an 400-student introductory biology class to conduct their research. Dividing the class evenly into an experimental and control group, Canning and White found that first-generation students who received growth mindset emails after taking their initial exams did better in the course overall than students who received standard emails without any mention of the growth mindset.

Averaging one-third of a grade higher, the research showed that first-generation students from the experimental group performed just as well as students whose parents had graduated college, which the release refers to as “continuing-generation” students.

“It’s a pretty sizable effect,” said Canning. “Many studies have shown that continuing generation students outperform first-generation students, but in the condition where we sent emails from the instructor that had growth mindset language, we saw that difference in performance completely go away.”

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Inside Higher Ed
WSU Insider

Social status changes hyenas’ epigenetics

An animal’s position in hierarchical hyena packs influences her gene expression.

For a spotted hyena on the Serengeti, social status is everything. Clans adhere to a strict hierarchy of dominance among adult females. Now, a group of researchers has found social status is more than superficial; it stretches into the animals’ DNA (Commun. Biol. 2024, DOI: 10.1038/s42003-024-05926-y).

Many traditional methods for collecting DNA are too invasive for wild hyena populations, says lead researcher Alexandra Weyrich from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Halle-Jena-Leipzig. “So, we sample the feces.”

In collaboration with Weyrich, researchers from the Serengeti Hyena Project—who know each individual animal by sight—scooped the poop for later analysis.

“What we found is quite stunning,” says Weyrich: there is a distinct correlation between social status and DNA methylation. Adding methyl groups to certain regions of DNA changes how those regions are transcribed and can act like a genetic on/off switch.

Forty-four genes are associated with the 147 differently methylated regions they found, says Weyrich. Some of these genes regulate energy conversion and appear more methylated in low-status females. This indicates that the animals are processing energy differently than their social superiors, says Weyrich, perhaps because low-ranking hyenas are forced to travel farther for resources.

“I think the data they found was quite solid and interesting,” says Michael Skinner, an epigeneticist at Washington State University. To him, this is another study demonstrating that epigenetic processes control most biological phenomena.

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Canada lynx historic range in U.S. likely wider than previously thought

A broader past could mean a brighter future for Canada lynx in the United States, according to recent research.

The study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, indicates that lynx might do well in the future in parts of Utah, central Idaho and the Yellowstone National Park region, even considering climate change and the lack of lynx in those areas now.

Using a model validated by historic records, researchers first found that in 1900, Canada lynx had more suitable habitat in the United States than the few northern corners of the country where they are found currently. The study showed the elusive big cat likely roamed over a larger area in the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes region and parts of New England.

“History matters even for wildlife,” said lead author Dan Thornton, a Washington State University wildlife ecologist. “As part of the criteria for species recovery, we have to understand their historic distribution. Otherwise, how can we help recover a species, if we don’t know what we’re recovering to?”

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Billings Gazette

Testing AI to advance health equity

A sociologist at Washington State University will test how people at risk for lung cancer in a rural area of the state respond to AI-generated text messages encouraging them to visit a local clinic to be screened for the disease.

Two versions of messages will be sent to some 200 patients, one direct and one polite, said Anna Zamora-Kapoor, who’s leading the NIH-funded project that aims to advance health equity and researcher diversity.

Why it matters: The project aims to help rural clinics use the limited resources they have to reach out to a higher number of patients than they’ve been able to in the past.

It should also show which message would most effectively convince people to be screened for cancer.

Zamora-Kapoor’s project targets people between ages 50 and 80 with a history of smoking who would benefit from a low-dose CT scan to detect lung cancer as early as possible. But the insights from the project could also be useful for screening for other cancers, she said.

“We need to create structures to make sure that emerging and powerful tools like AI and machine learning are democratized,” she told Carmen. “Right now, if we just let the market decide who’s going to access these tools, they’re just going to benefit the rich, they’re just going to benefit urban areas and they’re just going to benefit the white majority that doesn’t have an accent,” she said.

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