Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#243)

February 8, 2005 -- From MSU News Service

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Desert danger

More than 600 U.S. soldiers have contracted a disease called leishmaniasis, said Bob Peterson, a Montana State University entomologist. That means they were bitten by sand flies in Iraq or Afghanistan, developed sores and skin ulcers and had to be hospitalized for several months. Diseases carried by flies and mosquitoes endanger U.S. military personnel throughout the world, Peterson added. To help military leaders make informed decisions about leishmaniasis, malaria, dengue and West Nile virus, Peterson is working on a two-year project with Ryan Davis of Belgrade, a new master's degree student, and postdoctoral researcher Paula Macedo. They will compare the dangers of the diseases with the risks of using insecticides.

Caviar flavor

Rick Barrows thinks the caviar produced by farm-raised sturgeon in California is delicious. But people with more refined palates noticed the caviar loses flavor when it's stored for up to a year, said the affiliate professor at MSU and employee with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Since the fish only spawn once a year, it's important to maintain premium flavor throughout the caviar's shelf life, Barrows said. To help with that effort, Barrows is working on a three-year project with Stolt Sea Farm in California. He is adding vitamin E, vitamin C and selenium to the sturgeon's food with the idea that the antioxidents will move into the fish eggs and preserve their flavor. The project is funded by the Western Regional Aquaculture Center.

Bee whacks

Alfalfa leaf cutting bees -- unlike honey bees -- don't mind getting whacked in the face while pollinating alfalfa, according to MSU entomologists. The slap occurs when a bee lands on an alfalfa blossom. Its weight pulls aside the petals, and the stamen bops it on the head. Montanans who grow alfalfa for seed rely on alfalfa leaf cutting bees, but parasites and a fungal disease called chalkbrood are killing a disproportionate number of females. Since females do all the pollinating, it's important to find more effective solutions, said Ruth O'Neill, Sue Blodgett and Kevin O'Neill. Ruth O'Neill, for starters, has surveyed bee shelters to look for spatial and seasonal patterns of the infestations.

Elk and wildebeests

Yellowstone National Park and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania have different plants and animals, but their managers can learn from each other because they face many common issues, said Lisa Graumlich, director of MSU's Big Sky Institute. Officials in both parks worry about the spread of disease, for example. Yellowstone deals with brucellosis, and the Serengeti with rabies and canine distemper. Water allocation, fire management, invasive species and wildlife corridors are other shared challenges. Yellowstone elk wander outside the park during the winter, while wildebeests in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem migrate through private lands. To address such issues, the Big Sky Institute recently hosted 15 researchers and park managers from Tanzania and Kenya.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135