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Smarter than your average bear

Charles Robbins
Charles Robbins

Peeka, a 9-year-old grizzly housed at the WSU Bear Center, earns top place for demonstrating the most systematic ability to foil human security efforts. On her own, she learned a three-step process enabling her to slide open a door leading to an enclosed pen. Using her massive paw, she undid a spring-loaded clip; lifted a latch; then slid a bolt.

“Whenever I’d hear the clip hit the floor, I knew I had about two seconds to vacate the pen before the door would swing open,” said Charlie Robbins, a wildlife nutritionist who founded the one-of-a kind center in the 1980s. Robbins installed a more sophisticated type of latch on the pen, but Peeka figured that one out as well.

Read more about smart bears and the WSU Bear Center

Grizzly bears benefit from return of wolves to Yellowstone

Grizzly bear
Grizzly bear

The return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is having an interesting — though not surprising — effect on the larger ecosystem, affecting everything from grizzly bears to elk to berry bushes, according to new research from Oregon State University and Washington State University.

The study was published this week by scientists from Washington State University and Oregon State University in the Journal of Animal Ecology. WSU co-authors are graduate assistant Jennifer K. Fortin and Charles T. Robbins, professor in the WSU School of the Environment.

Read more about the research at WSU News

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Fish carcass tossing helps track food chain nutrients

Black bear
Grizzly bears and black bears feed on naturally spawning salmon and distribute nutrients into the forest. Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

By Bob Hoffmann, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

A slender, dark-haired woman in her forties shoulders a backpack loaded with dead fish as she hikes a long, rocky trail to a mountain stream in southern Idaho. Arriving on the bank, she drops the pack and starts winging fish carcasses into the water.

This is science. And this is Laura Felicetti, a research scientist in the lab of Charles Robbins, professor in the School of the Environment and School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University. Felicetti is a member of a team that’s trying to quantify the success of nutrient replacement in an area where dams have stopped salmon and steelhead from migrating.

Nutrient-poor soil

Soils in Idaho’s Boise-Payette-Weiser sub-basin are nutrient poor, according to Katy Kavanagh, a University of Idaho forest ecology professor and a collaborator on the project. One reason is that natural processes in this ecosystem poorly incorporate atmospheric nitrogen into the soil in a form that is usable to plants. Also, the region’s dry summers and cold winters are not favorable to decomposition, so dead trees are slow to decay and make their nutrients available to other plants.  Continue story →