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Ask Dr. Universe: Why are there so many palm trees in California?

Along with beaches, sunshine, and movie stars, a lot of people picture palm trees when they think of southern California. While there are lots of palm tree species in California, they aren’t all originally from the area. Many were brought from different places around the world.

Chuck Cody.

That’s what I found out from my friend Chuck Cody, a biologist who manages some of the greenhouses at Washington State University.

Believe it or not, Washington state also used to be home to lots of palm trees. In the Jacklin Collection Museum at WSU, there are all kinds of petrified wood. One of the pieces is fossilized palm wood from central Washington. Fossils can give us a lot of clues about what life was like before humans were around.

Cody also told me that in prehistoric times, during the earliest days of flowering plants on our planet, palms were a big part of the natural landscapes. This was back more than 145 million years ago when dinosaurs like Iguanodon and Ankylosaurs roamed the earth.

In Washington, palm trees were common 15 million years ago and were able to survive during a time when the climate wasn’t so cold. But as you’ve observed, California is the place that’s home to a lot of palm trees these days.

While the California Fan Palm is a native palm of California, Cody told me that people started bringing other species of palm trees to California around 200 years ago.

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Dr. Universe

Washington: DFW to Use Drone to Count Spawning Salmon Nests

Starting in September and going through November of 2019, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will partner with Washington State University (WSU) on a research project to use drone technology to advance conservation efforts for summer Chinook salmon.

An unmanned aerial vehicle – also known as a drone – will be used to identify and inventory salmon spawning nests, called redds, in three areas of the Upper Wenatchee River watershed. Those areas include near Lake Wenatchee, near Tumwater Campground, and near Blackbird Island (near Leavenworth). In addition, surveys conducted on foot and by boat will also be used.

Daniel Auerbach.

The use of a drone is expected to provide improved data for more accurate population forecasting. It is also less expensive and labor intensive than manual count methods used in the past. The use of the drone, and drone pilot Daniel Auerbach’s expertise, will be of minimal cost to WDFW. Auerbach is a graduate student at WSU’s School of Environment and this project is part of his thesis research. His work is a collaboration with WDFW’s McLain Johnson, who leads research efforts in the area.

High resolution photos and video taken by the drone will help to identify spawning locations and habitat characteristics. Redd abundance and distribution are common metrics used to monitor and evaluate the status and trend of adult salmon populations.

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Fishing Wire

Saving sage-grouse by relocation

Moving can be tough, but eventually most of us acclimate to new surroundings.

That’s true for humans, and research from Washington State University shows it’s the same for sage-grouse too.

A team of scientists in the School of the Environment (SoE) successfully moved sage-grouse, a threatened bird species in Washington state, from one area of their range to another to increase their numbers and diversify their gene pool. A WSU study on the project in the Journal of Wildlife Management shows relocating the birds is a viable and productive step toward helping their population recover in the state.

Kyle Ebenhoch holds a native sage-grouse that was caught and fitted with a radio collar for inclusion in his study.
Alumnus Kyle Ebenhoch holds a native sage-grouse that was caught and fitted with a radio collar for inclusion in his study. Photo courtesy of Kyle Ebenhoch.

“In the first year after moving sage-grouse in, they tended to move around a lot and didn’t reproduce as effectively as the native population,” said Kyle Ebenhoch, a researcher now working at the U.S. Geological Survey. “It took them about a year to settle in and get used to their new surroundings.”

Ebenhoch, a WSU graduate student during this project, wrote the paper with SoE professors Daniel Thornton, Lisa Shipley, and Jeffrey Manning. Kevin White, a contract wildlife biologist with the Yakima Training Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was also a member of the research team.  The training center hosts a population of sage-grouse where the relocation work was done.

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WSU Insider

Spokane Public Radio

Reintroducing endangered northern leopard frogs in Washington

Erica Crespi.

With the help of scientists from Washington State University, hundreds of endangered northern leopard frogs have taken a leap back into the wild in recent weeks at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Grant County.

The releases were made possible by a partnership of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Oregon Zoo, and WSU.

Bernardo Traversari.

WDFW collected northern leopard frog eggs earlier this spring, and after months of growing in conservation labs at WSU and the Oregon Zoo, the frogs were ready for release in recent weeks.

“It was really exciting to see these frogs go out into their world,” said Erica Crespi, assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences. “It was like watching my children go off on their first day of school. It was especially great to see them start to eat their first insect meals as they hopped away. We are all hoping that they will continue to thrive in their original home.”

Caren Goldberg.

Crespi and her graduate student Bernardo Traversari, along with WSU collaborators Caren Goldberg, assistant professor in the School of the Environment, and Allan Pessier, clinical associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, played an important role in the project by rearing frog tadpoles at the Airport Gardens research facility in Pullman. The WSU team’s efforts also included disease surveillance, genetic assessment, population modeling, and experiments to determine optimal rearing conditions to maximize the probability of a successful reintroduction.

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WSU Insider

Dr. Universe: How does the moon glow?

Our moon is one of the brightest objects in the night sky. But unlike a lamp or our sun, the moon doesn’t produce its own light.

Light can travel in lots of different ways. Moonlight is actually sunlight that shines on the moon and bounces off. The light reflects off old volcanoes, craters, and lava flows on the moon’s surface.

Julie Menard
Julie Menard

That’s what I found out from my friend Julie Menard, a geologist and researcher in the School of the Environment at Washington State University, who studies what makes up the rocky planets in our solar system.

If you look through binoculars or a telescope, you might even be able to see some lunar rays coming out of the moon’s craters, she said. These craters are places where asteroids or meteorites hit the moon long ago. The rays are formed by rocks and dust and other stuff that got blown out of the crater by a meteorite. You might also see some lighter, brighter spots on the moon, which are signs of newer impacts.

Menard also reminded me about a common object a lot of us use: mirrors. She said that during the Apollo missions, astronauts actually left behind some mirrors on the surface of the moon.

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Dr. Universe