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Biology

Spring 2005

Woodley collects, identifies, and preserves flies

From his office in the Smithsonian Institution’s Systematic Entomology Laboratory, Norm Woodley helps care for the world’s largest bug collection and identifies threatening pests before they get into the country.

A fly specialist and taxonomist, Woodley (’76 Entom.) is also a curator of the 40 million specimens housed primarily at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. He and his colleagues use the collection and their expertise to identify insects that have hitchhiked into the country on overseas cargo shipments. Federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service agents collect the bugs and larvae they find on goods that come in on ships and planes. … » More …

Video: A Buzz about Bees

Walter (Steve) Sheppard is one busy man, flying his own plane around the Pacific Northwest to meet with beekeepers and deliver queen-breeding stock produced in his honey bee breeding program to beekeeper collaborators. He also travels to countries such as Kazakhstan to study populations of honey bees from wild apple forests that have the potential to be added to Washington State University breeding stock. Over the years, he and his students have bred bees to resist parasites and diseases, produce more honey, and survive harsh winters better than their ancestors. He’s even bred friendlier bees that are easier for beekeepers to work with.

Among the … » More …

Fall 2007

Borrowing nature's designs

In Michael Knoblauch’s lab, the gap between fundamental research and practical applications is a narrow one.

Knoblauch studies the inner workings of phloem (FLOAM), the channels that transport water and nutrients throughout a plant. Research doesn’t get much more basic than that—yet one of his recent discoveries is leading him straight to the patent office.

He’s found that structures in the phloem of some plants have great potential as high-tech, microscopic valves, sensors, and motors.

Knoblauch named the structures “forisomes,” which means “gate-bodies.” He found that they keep the phloem from leaking after it’s been injured.

Phloem is comprised of parallel tubes, or sieve elements, … » More …

Winter 2008

Fine Specimens

Washington State University is home to three superb research collections, all begun soon after the young agricultural college opened its doors. What makes them research collections, says Ownbey Herbarium director Larry Hufford, is "sheer numbers." The Conner Zoology Museum has about 69,000 specimens, the Herbarium about 375,000, and the James Entomology Collection more than 1.25 million. These numbers make WSU's collections among the best in the nation. » More ...

Value of the collections

“[The collections] answer to a lot of people,” says Rich Zack. “They answer a lot of questions, and at times they can generate funds, but it’s not a steady stream of funds. Often you’re answering small questions from hundreds of people.” Any one of those hundreds might get along OK if the collections shut down, “but because we serve so many, it would be a major loss,” says Zack.

Anthropologist Karen Lupo, whose students make frequent use of the Conner Museum’s bone collection, says she was disturbed to learn that WSU once considered closing the Conner. With new analytical techniques making collections more valuable than … » More …

Tracking a cattle disease

In addition to consulting botanists at the Ownbey Herbarium, retired veterinarian Clive Gay and range scientist Ernie Motteram have dipped into the specimen drawers and expertise at the James Entomology Collection. They have  been working with cattlemen in central Washington to pinpoint the insect vectors for pinkeye, the general name for a number of nasty eye infections. Ranchers in Kittitas County have told Motteram that pinkeye is their biggest herd health problem. He says the conventional wisdom that we already know all we need to know about pinkeye is dead wrong. Almost all of the scientific literature on pinkeye is old and doesn’t take into … » More …

Coping with Climate Change

Several years ago, scientists noticed that recent herbarium specimens had been collected earlier in the season than specimens from decades past. Since most plants are collected when they are in flower, that meant they were flowering earlier. The easy explanation was that they were responding to the warmer temperatures caused by climate change. The trouble with that, says Larry Hufford, is that it didn’t happen with every species.

He searched the Herbarium’s database for the first date of collection for several plants common in eastern Washington, and found that the habitat a species lives in may be a factor in whether the plant is now … » More …

Summer 2006

The worm turns: A Palouse native is found

A Palouse native, not seen in nearly two decades and feared extinct, has been rediscovered. While digging soil samples at the Washington State University botany department’s Smoot Hill preserve, University of Idaho graduate student Yaniria Sanchez-de Leon noticed a glimpse of white. Quick with her shovel, she captured the six-inch specimen of Driloreirus americanus, also known as the giant Palouse earthworm. Historically, specimens have been recorded as long as three feet. Although an observer reported it as “abundant” in the Palouse in 1897, tillage and competition from European earthworms seem to have taken their toll.

Smoot Hill contains the largest remnant of native Palouse prairie. … » More …