New collaborative effort takes flight

Matt Betts knows all of the songbirds in the forest by ear. But at Chip Ross Park in Corvallis, he stands silently and picks out the song of an orange-crowned warbler.  

“In some parts of its range, it’s declining faster than the spotted owl,” he says of the bird. “Researchers don’t know exactly why it’s declining, although it’s likely due to habitat loss.”

Betts, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, is researching the factors that cause biodiversity to decline in Oregon and around the world. He wants to learn what can be done from a management perspective.

As an undergraduate, Betts planted trees in northern Canada where he worked for months at a time in clearcut areas.

“Some of these clear cuts were huge, heavily sprayed, and we replanted with just a single species, black spruce,” he says. “The wisdom at the time was that these practices were necessary to grow trees properly, but it seemed to me that there must be alternatives that were better for wildlife. I went back to school to discover whether this was possible.”

His experience in reforestation stoked his interest in biodiversity, and Betts arrived at Oregon State eager to explore the many complex relationships found in the forest.

His current priority is to establish a Forest Biodiversity Research Network (FBRN) at Oregon State. This effort is supported by his recent award, the Institute for Working Forest Landscapes (IWFL) Research Professorship. The IWFL professorships fund world-class researchers in the early part of their careers to lead research, promote effective dissemination and strengthen research leadership at the highest academic levels.

Betts says the goal of the FBRN is to connect professors across disciplines working in the field of forest biodiversity, to highlight the importance of the work, seek non-traditional funding, and prioritize a research agenda for biodiversity conservation.

“Oregon State has more high-impact forest scientists and conservation biologists in one location than anywhere in the world and a perfect geographical location in between the fantastically productive and diverse forests of the Coast Range and Cascades,” Betts says. “We will combine our efforts and take full advantage of the collective intellect of everyone working on campus and in adjacent government institutions including the Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey  and U.S. Environmental Protection Angency. That’s the vision, and I’m excited to explore where it leads.”