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Eyes in the sky monitor streamside ecosystems

Washington State University researchers are using satellites and drones to help local conservation districts monitor areas near rivers and streams to help improve agricultural sustainability.

Alex Fremier.

“The state’s program is really a bottom-up approach, where the state encourages local stewardship to improve riparian areas and monitor them,” said Alexander Fremier, an associate professor in WSU’s School of the Environment (SOE). “Stakeholders, including counties, districts, or landowners, propose areas that they can help improve, then monitor the results of their actions.”

“Google created a platform to access satellite imagery from the entire globe,” Fremier said. “We can start to analyze those images in real-time using simple computer code.”

Amanda Stahl.

“We wanted to see how far we could take the analysis and what level of technical expertise is required for people working on the ground to use it,” said Amanda Stahl, who was an SOE Ph.D. student studying with Fremier. “Riparian areas tend to be very narrow, but new technology provides much more detailed satellite photos that are updated at least once a week.”

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Farm Progress


Top WSU research stories 2020

From “murder hornets” to life on other planets, the most popular Washington State University research coverage in a year dominated by COVID-19 was largely tangential to the pandemic—playing on questions of how things could get worse, or how we might leave this troubled planet altogether. Other stories that saw wide audiences involved the pandemic more directly or research so novel it could not be ignored like the creation of the first-ever surrogate sires, male livestock able to pass on the most-desired genetics of donor animals.

This was not a typical year, but the news stories about WSU research that did the best still had a focus on real-world impact. Health-related stories, in particular, did well, such as whether parents should hide their stress from kids, the potential benefits of cannabis or whether exercise helped people deal with their pandemic fears.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch.

Among many top articles about important research happening in the College of Arts and Sciences, the idea of “superhabitable” planets, worlds that might be better than our own, caught a lot of people’s imaginations across the globe. Astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an adjunct WSU professor in the School of the Environment and also with the Technical University in Berlin, and his colleagues came up with a set of characteristics that are better for life and found 24 of these potentially wonderful planets.

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Modeling the Creation of Cratons, Earth’s Secret Keepers

The continents, the solid blocks of land beneath our feet, weren’t always as strong as they’ve come to be. Now, scientists from Monash University in Australia have devised a new mechanism to explain how the roots of the continents—cratons—came to be. Using numerical models to simulate the conditions of Archean era Earth, the researchers’ findings, published in Nature, show that a strong base for the continents emerged from the melting and stretching of the cratonic lithospheric mantle.

Catherine 'Katie' Cooper

Cratons form the base of continents and hold the title of the oldest existing portion of the lithosphere. They’re extremely thick and began to form up to 3 billion years ago, in the Archean eon. “They’re the secret keepers of the Earth,” said Catherine Cooper, an associate professor of geophysics in the School of the Environment at Washington State University in Pullman. Cooper was not involved in the new research. By studying cratons, scientists might learn how major components of Earth arose and how plate tectonics began. “If you can understand the role of the secret keepers within [Earth], then we can try to answer some of those questions better.”

As scientists gain a firmer grasp of the origins of cratons, they’re better able to understand processes that might be happening within other planets as well as the processes that helped form our own. “[Cratons] have kind of gone along for the ride, picking up all of Earth’s secrets for all this time,” said Cooper. “They’re such an intriguing scientific story.”

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Jaguar kills ocelot in rare footage, and climate change might be behind it

Another wild cat was an unusual meal choice for a jaguar, so scientists are looking for the reason.

A camera trap at a watering hole in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve captured some extremely rare footage of an unusual jaguar meal: an ocelot. The footage showed the male jaguar letting a tapir pass by and waiting it out to instead nab the cat. Washington State University described the event as a possible “sign of climate-change-induced conflict” in a statement on Tuesday.

Ecologists from WSU and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) studied the footage and published a paper on the predator interaction in the journal Biotropica in late December.

Daniel Thornton.

The timing of the watering hole incident was important. It happened in March 2019 during a serious drought. “Although these predator-on-predator interactions may be rare, there may be certain instances when they become more prevalent, and one of those could be over contested water resources,” said study co-author WSU assistant professor Daniel Thornton.

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Beavers may help amphibians threatened by climate change

The recovery of beavers may have beneficial consequences for amphibians because beaver dams can create the unique habitats that amphibians need.

That finding was reported by four WSU Vancouver scientists in a paper published in the journal Freshwater Biology. The research took place in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest of the Cascade Range, where the researchers identified 49 study sites either with or without beaver dams. The researchers found the beaver-dammed sites were 2.7 times higher in amphibian species richness than the undammed sites.

Kevan Moffet.
Jonah Piovia-Scott.

“Beaver-dammed wetlands support more of the amphibian species that need a long time to develop in water as larvae before they are able to live on land as adults,” said Jonah Piovia-Scott, assistant professor in the School of Biological Sciences and one of the authors of the article.

In addition to Piovia-Scott, the authors of the study are Kevan Moffett, assistant professor in the School of the Environment; John Romansic, former postdoctoral scholar in the School of Biological Sciences; and Nicolette Nelson, former graduate student in the School of Biological Sciences.

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