Warming climate may spread drying to a third of earth: Heat, not just rainfall, plays into new projections

Increasing heat is expected to extend dry conditions to far more farmland and cities by the end of the century than changes in rainfall alone, says a new study. Much of the concern about future drought under global warming has focused on rainfall projections, but higher evaporation rates may also play an important role as warmer temperatures wring more moisture from the soil, even in some places where rainfall is forecasted to increase, say the researchers.The study is one of the first to use the latest climate simulations to model the effects of both changing rainfall and evaporation rates on future drought. Published this month in the journal Climate Dynamics, the study estimates that 12 percent of land will be subject to drought by 2100 through rainfall changes alone; but the drying will spread to 30 percent of land if higher evaporation rates from the added energy and humidity in the atmosphere is considered. An increase in evaporative drying means that even regions expected to get more rain, including important wheat, corn and rice belts in the western United States and southeastern China, will be at risk of drought. The study excludes Antarctica.”We know from basic physics that warmer temperatures will help to dry things out,” said the study’s lead author, Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist with joint appointments at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “Even if precipitation changes in the future are uncertain, there are good reasons to be concerned about water resources.”In its latest climate report, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that soil moisture is expected to decline globally and that already dry regions will be at greater risk of agricultural drought. The IPCC also predicts a strong chance of soil moisture drying in the Mediterranean, southwestern United States and southern African regions, consistent with the Climate Dynamics study.Using two drought metric formulations, the study authors analyze projections of both rainfall and evaporative demand from the collection of climate model simulations completed for the IPCC’s 2013 climate report. Both metrics agree that increased evaporative drying will probably tip marginally wet regions at mid-latitudes like the U.S. Great Plains and a swath of southeastern China into aridity. If precipitation were the only consideration, these great agricultural centers would not be considered at risk of drought. …

Read more

Increasing longevity of seeds with genetic engineering

A study developed by researchers of the Institute for Plant Molecular and Cell Biology (IBMCP), a joint center of the Universitat Politcnica de Valncia and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), in collaboration with the Unit for Plant Genomics Research of Evry, France (URGV, in French) has discovered a new way of improving the longevity of plant seeds using genetic engineering. Plant Physiology magazine has published the research results.The key is the overexpression of the ATHB25 gene. This gene encodes a protein that regulates gene expression, producing a new mutant that gives the seed new properties. Researchers have proven that this mutant has more gibberellin -the hormone that promotes plant growth-, which means the seed coat is reinforced as well. “The seed coat is responsible for preventing oxygen from entering the seed; the increase in gibberellin strengthens it and this leads to a more durable and longer lasting seed,” explains Eduardo Bueso, researcher at the IBMCP (UPV-CSIC).This mechanism is new, as tolerance to stresses such as aging has always been associated with another hormone, abscisic acid, which regulates defenses based on proteins and small protective molecules, instead of producing the growth of structures like gibberellin does.The study has been made on the experimental model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, a species that presents great advantages for molecular biology research. Researchers of the IBMCP traced half a million seeds, related to one hundred thousand lines of Arabidopsis mutated by T-DNA insertion, using the natural system of Agrobacterium tumefaciens. “Finally, we analyzed four mutants in the study and we proved the impact on the seed longevity when the overexpression of the ATHB25 gene is introduced,” states Ramn Serrano, researcher at the IBMCP.Researchers compared the longevity of genetically modified Arabidopsis seeds and seeds which were not modified. In order to do this, they preserved them for thirty months under specific conditions of room temperature and humidity. After thirty months, only 20% of the control plants germinated again, whereas almost the all of the modified plants (90%) began the germination process again.Researchers of the IBMCP are now trying to improve the longevity of different species that are of agronomical interest, such as tomatoes or wheat.Biodiversity and benefits for farmersThis discovery is particularly significant for the conservation of biodiversity, preserving seed species and, especially, for farmers.”In the past, a lot of different plant species were cultivated, but many of them are dissapearing because high performance crops have now become a priority. Seed banks were created in order to guarantee the conservation of species, but they require a periodical regeneration of the seeds. …

Read more

‘Best practices’ nutrition measurement for researchers

At first glance, measuring what the common fruit fly eats might seem like a trivial matter, but it is absolutely critical when it comes to conducting studies of aging, health, metabolism and disease. How researchers measure consumption can make all the difference in the accuracy of a study’s conclusions.Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have developed what amounts to a best practices guide to the most accurate way of measuring fruit fly food consumption that could lead to more informed research and better decisions about directions in further studies.”While our study isn’t the final technical reference on measuring fly food consumption, it will help guide researchers to think more carefully about nutrition and nutrient intake in their own studies,” said TSRI Assistant Professor William Ja, who led the study, which was published online ahead of print on March 30, 2014 by the journal Nature Methods.Researchers, Ja said, generally haven’t given sufficient thought to feeding and nutrient intake when it comes to measuring fruit fly behavior, metabolism and health.”If you’re making a huge effort to change an animal’s diet and trying to draw conclusions about what nutrition and nutrients do to animal health and lifespan,” he said, “then one of the most fundamental parameters is accurately measuring food intake.”TSRI Research Associate Sonali Deshpande, a first author of the study with graduate student Ariadna Amador and former TSRI Research Associate Gil Carvalho, underlined the importance of using the best measurement methods. “Drug studies, in particular, where compounds are added to fly food, are difficult to interpret without proper measurement of food and drug intake,” she said.In the study, the team determined that radioisotope labeling food is the most sensitive and consistently accurate feeding method now available — levels of accumulated isotope are later measured in the animals. This method’s main limitation appears to be underestimation of consumption due to excretion.For the most accurate measurement, the study suggested pairing radioisotope labeling with a more low-tech approach, such as the capillary feeder (CAFE). The CAFE assay, introduced by Ja in 2007, is similar to a water dispenser used for pet hamsters, but on a smaller scale.”In a significant number of studies, we found that researchers appeared indifferent to the impact feeding might have on the experiment,” Ja said. “This doesn’t seem like good science to me. Can you imagine doing a mouse experiment, saying that you watched mice for four hours and saw no difference in feeding, then make conclusions about total caloric intake over days or longer?”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Scripps Research Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Read more

Meeting climate targets may require reducing meat, dairy consumption

Greenhouse gas emissions from food production may threaten the UN climate target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, according to research at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.On Monday 31 March the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents their report on the impacts of climate change.Carbon dioxide emissions from the energy and transportation sectors currently account for the largest share of climate pollution. However, a study from Chalmers now shows that eliminating these emissions would not guarantee staying below the UN limit. Emissions from agriculture threaten to keep increasing as global meat and dairy consumption increases. If agricultural emissions are not addressed, nitrous oxide from fields and methane from livestock may double by 2070. This alone would make meeting the climate target essentially impossible.”We have shown that reducing meat and dairy consumption is key to bringing agricultural climate pollution down to safe levels,” says Fredrik Hedenus, one of the study authors. “Broad dietary change can take a long time. We should already be thinking about how we can make our food more climate friendly.”By 2070, there will be many more of us on this planet. Diets high in meat, milk, cheese, and other food associated with high emissions are expected to become more common. Because agricultural emissions are difficult and expensive to reduce via changes in production methods or technology, these growing numbers of people, eating more meat and dairy, entail increasing amounts of climate pollution from the food sector.”These emissions can be reduced with efficiency gains in meat and dairy production, as well as with the aid of new technology,” says co-author Stefan Wirsenius. “But the potential reductions from these measures are fairly limited and will probably not suffice to keep us within the climate limit, if meat and dairy consumption continue to grow.”Beef and lamb account for the largest agricultural emissions, relative to the energy they provide. …

Read more

Reducing E. coli in cows, improving food safety

A new biological treatment could help dairy cattle stave off uterine diseases and eventually may help improve food safety for humans, a University of Florida study shows.Kwang Cheol Jeong, an assistant professor in animal sciences and UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, examined cattle uterine illnesses because they can make cows infertile, lower milk production and because those maladies are often linked to bacteria, he said. The UF researchers did their experiments in labs and at the Dairy Unit on the Gainesville campus.Jeong and his research team infused chitosan microparticles ─ an antimicrobial material derived from dissolved shrimp shells ─ into diseased cow uteri. When bought in stores, chitosan can be used to treat many ailments from obesity to anemia. On its own, chitosan only works at acidic pH levels, Jeong said. For cattle, Jeong’s team developed chitosan microparticles, which work in acidic and neutral pH, because cattle uteri have a neutral pH.The study’s findings suggest chitosan microparticles kill bacteria in the uteri, he said. Jeong said it may someday be possible for chitosan microparticles to be used to help humans who have become ill from consuming E. coli-contaminated food, but more research is needed.Developing a new antimicrobial agent is critical to human and animal health, said Jeong, a member of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.”Dangerous infections are diminishing the role of some antibiotics, making them less able to treat infections, as pathogens are developing resistance to the drugs,” he said, adding that about 23,000 people die in the U.S. annually because of exposure to pathogens that don’t respond to antibiotics.Once bacteria become resistant, whether on farms, hospitals or in the environment, they can infect humans, through water, food or contact with contaminated feces, Jeong said.Further, some antibiotics used to treat humans and animals kill good and bad bacteria. Scientists can use the UF study’s findings to begin to develop better drugs that target bad pathogens but leave beneficial bacteria, Jeong said.E. coli are everywhere, including the human gut, but can contaminate beef, unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses made from raw milk and raw fruits and vegetables that haven’t been washed properly.The most recent outbreak of meat-traced E. …

Read more

Health costs of air pollution from agriculture clarified

Ammonia pollution from agricultural sources poses larger health costs than previously estimated, according to NASA-funded research.Harvard University researchers Fabien Paulot and Daniel Jacob used computer models including a NASA model of chemical reactions in the atmosphere to better represent how ammonia interacts in the atmosphere to form harmful particulate matter. The improved simulation helped the scientists narrow in on the estimated health costs from air pollution associated with food produced for export — a growing sector of agriculture and a source of trade surplus.”The ‘cost’ is an economic concept to measure how much people are willing to pay to avoid a risk,” Paulot said. “This is used to quantify the cost for society but also to evaluate the benefits of mitigation.”The new research by Paulot and Jacob calculate the health cost associated with the ammonia emissions from agriculture exports to be $36 billion a year — equal to about half of the revenue generated by those same exports — or $100 per kilogram of ammonia. The study was published December 2013 in Environmental Science & Technology.The new estimate is about double the current estimate by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which suggests a cost of $47 per kilogram of ammonia. The scientists say the new estimate is on the high end of the spectrum, which reflects the need for more research into characterizing the relationship between agricultural ammonia emissions and the formation of the harmful fine particulate matter — a relationship that’s not as straightforward as previous estimates assumed.”The effect of ammonia on fine particulate is complex, and we believe that the models previously used in the United States to price ammonia emissions have not captured this well,” Paulot said.Manure from livestock and fertilizer for crops release ammonia to the atmosphere. In the air, ammonia mixes with other emissions to form microscopic airborne particles, or particulates. The particulates that pose the greatest health risk are those that measure no more than 2.5 micrometers across, or about 1/30 the width of a human hair, which when inhaled can become lodged deep within the lungs. Long-term exposure has been linked to heart and lung diseases and even death. As such, the particles are on the list of six common air pollutants regulated by EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards.An increase in ammonia, however, does not translate to an equal increase in particulates. …

Read more

Natural plant compounds may assist chemotherapy

Researchers at Plant & Food Research have identified plant compounds present in carrots and parsley that may one day support more effective delivery of chemotherapy treatments.Scientists at Plant & Food Research, working together with researchers at The University of Auckland and the National Cancer Institute of The Netherlands, have discovered specific plant compounds able to inhibit transport mechanisms in the body that select what compounds are absorbed into the body, and eventually into cells. These same transport mechanisms are known to interfere with cancer chemotherapy treatment.The teams’ research, recently published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, showed that falcarinol type compounds such as those found in carrots and parsley may support the delivery of drug compounds which fight breast cancer by addressing the over-expression of Breast Cancer Resistance Protein (BCRP/ABCG2), a protein that leads to some malignant tissues ability to become resistant to chemotherapy.”It’s very exciting work,” says Plant & Food Research Senior Scientist, Dr Arjan Scheepens. “Our work is uncovering new means to alter how the body absorbs specific chemical and natural compounds. Ultimately we are interested in how food could be used to complement conventional treatments to potentially deliver better results for patients.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Read more

Plant growth enhanced through promotion of pore opening

By inducing the pore opening of leaves, researchers at Nagoya University’s ITbM developed a strategy for enhancing photosynthesis and plant growth, which may be applied to crops and fuel plants to support global food production and a sustainable low-carbon society.By determining the key factor in regulating photosynthesis and plant growth, Professor Toshinori Kinoshita, Dr. Yin Wang and co-workers at Nagoya University’s Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (WPI-ITbM) have succeeded in developing a method to increase photosynthesis (carbon dioxide uptake) and plant growth through the promotion of stomatal opening. The study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is expected to contribute to the promotion of plant production and towards the development of a sustainable low-carbon society.Stomata are small pores located on the surface of leaves that control gas exchange with the external environment, and are the primary inlet for the uptake of carbon dioxide. “Stomatal resistance, which suppresses gas exchange through the stomata, is considered to be the major limiting factor for carbon dioxide uptake by plants during photosynthesis,” explains Professor Kinoshita, “very few reports have existed focusing on the induction of stomatal opening. Therefore, we decided to develop a method to manipulate stomatal opening in view of increasing photosynthesis (carbon dioxide uptake) and plant production.”Kinoshita’s group has already revealed some of the key factors that mediate stomatal opening. The plasma membrane proton (H+)-ATPase or proton pump, an enzyme creating electrochemical gradients in the cell membranes of plants, has been identified as one of the key components. “An increase in photosynthesis (carbon dioxide uptake) by approximately 15% and a 1.4~1.6 times increase in plant growth of Arabidopsis plants was observed by enhanced stomatal opening achieved through overexpression of the proton pump in guard cells that surround the stomata pore,” elaborates Professor Kinoshita.Professor Kinoshita and his co-workers envisage that application of this method will contribute to the increase in the production of crops and fuel plants as well as towards the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Professor Kinoshita states, “Identifying that the manipulation of stomatal opening is the key limiting factor in photosynthesis and plant growth enables us to consider strategies to solve current issues in food production and carbon emissions.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Transformative Bio-Molecules (WPI-ITbM), Nagoya University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Read more

Understanding plant-soil interaction could lead to new ways to combat weeds

Using high-powered DNA-based tools, a recent study at the University of Illinois identified soil microbes that negatively affect ragweed and provided a new understanding of the complex relationships going on beneath the soil surface between plants and microorganisms.”Plant scientists have been studying plant-soil feedback for decades,” said U of I microbial ecologist Tony Yannarell. “Some microbes are famous for their ability to change the soil, such as the microbes that are associated with legumes — we knew about those bacteria. But now we have the ability to use high-power DNA fingerprinting tools to look at all of the microbes in the soil, beyond just the ones we’ve known about. We were able to look at an entire microbial community and identify those microbes that both preferred ragweed and affected its growth.”Although it would seem that the logical conclusion would be to simply add anti-ragweed microbes to soil, Yannarell said that adding microbes to soil hasn’t been successful in the past. An effective strategy, however, to suppress weeds might be to use plants that are known to attract the microbes that are bad for ragweed, and in so doing, encourage the growth of a microbial community that will kill it.The study used Manhattan, Kan. (sunflower) and Urbana, Ill. (ragweed) and conducted trials independently at agricultural research facilities in Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, South Dakota, and Oregon, using local soils gathered on site. These particular weeds were selected because ragweed is a more common weed east of the Mississippi and sunflower is more common in the West.The experiment allowed Yannarell and his colleagues to observe how three generations of ragweed and sunflower interacted with the microbial community in the soil. The plants interact with each other indirectly due to the differing effects they each have on the microbes in the soil.”We used the same soil continuously so it had a chance to be changed,” Yannarell said. “We let the plants do the manipulation.”Interestingly, they did not find the same ragweed-preferring microbe across all five states. …

Read more

Pesticides make the life of earthworms miserable

Pesticides are sprayed on crops to help them grow, but the effect on earthworms living in the soil under the plants is devastating, new research reveals: The worms only grow to half their normal weight and they do not reproduce as well as worms in fields that are not sprayed.Pesticides have a direct impact on the physiology and behavior of earthworms, a Danish/French research team reports after having studied earthworms that were exposed to pesticides over generations.”We see that the worms have developed methods to detoxify themselves, so that they can live in soil sprayed with fungicide. They spend a lot of energy on detoxifying, and that comes with a cost: The worms do not reach the same size as other worms, and we see that there are fewer of them in sprayed soil. An explanation could be that they are less successful at reproducing, because they spend their energy on ridding themselves of the pesticide,” the researchers, Ph. D. student Nicolas Givaudan and associate professor, Claudia Wiegand, say.Claudia Wiegand is from the Department of Biology at University of Southern Denmark, and she led the research together with Francoise Binet from University Rennes 1 in France. Nicolas Givaudan is doing his Ph. D. as a joint degree between University of Southern Denmark and University of Rennes 1 in France. They researchers reached their findings by metabolomic profiling and energetic parameters.The researchers set up an experiment to study the behavior of the earthworm species Aporectodea caliginosa. They moved two portions of farmed soil with worms into the lab. …

Read more

Preventing Head Blight in Barley, Wheat: Biochemical Pathways Hold Key to Resistance

Pale, shriveled heads of grain spell trouble for wheat and barley farmers — they’re the telltale signs of fusarium head blight. The fungal disease, commonly known as scab, not only dramatically shrinks yields but produces toxins that make the grain dangerous for human or animal consumption.From 1991 to 1996, head blight caused $2.6 billion in losses to the U.S. wheat crop. At its peak, the fungus destroyed the entire malting barley crop in the Red River and Ohio River Valleys, according to molecular biologist Yang Yen, an Agricultural Experiment Station researcher and professor at South Dakota State University.Two decades later the U.S. Department of Agriculture still ranks head blight as “the worst plant disease to hit the U.S. since the rust epidemics in the 1950s.” Wheat and barley farmers have lost more than $3 billion since 1990 from blight outbreaks.Despite major research funding — including the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, scientists admit that efforts to control this devastating disease have met with limited success.”This is an extraordinary disease that requires extraordinary means to combat it,” says Yen, who began working on head blight in 1997.Using advanced genetic and molecular technologies, Yen has begun tracing the biochemical pathways that make wheat susceptible or resistant to head blight. Three graduate students and two postdoctoral scientists have worked on this research over the last 16 years.Multiple hosts and pathogensHead blight can be caused by multiple pathogens, and these pathogens can attack multiple hosts including grasses and corn, Yen explains. This makes the disease tougher to combat.Researchers are working to develop resistant types of grain, alter tillage practices and apply fungicides to fight the disease.”This disease is not new,” Yen says. It was first reported in England in 1884 and in North America in 1890. …

Read more

Harsh weather conditions increase cost of food

Many of your favorite products at the grocery store are going to cost more, according to Glynn Tonsor, associate professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University.”When consumers walk in the grocery store, they are going to have to continue to juggle what they put in those baskets,” Tonsor said.Several items will cost more this year, including beef, pork, vegetables and nuts. Most of the increase in price is because of extreme drought facing several states.”Most people recognize weather has a big hand in food production,” Tonsor said. “What they might not recognize is the actual location of food production around the country and therefore how weather across the country impacts the food prices they see.”California, described as the salad bowl of the United States, produces more than 90 percent of select vegetables and nut products. However, the state is facing extreme drought conditions. That means fewer of these products are available. Tonsor says the limited supply will increase the price of the products anywhere from 5 to 20 percent.Drought is also taking a toll on beef. The drought in Oklahoma, coupled with the already historically low amount of cattle in the United States, will hike up the price for beef.”It’s not just a weather story,” Tonsor said. “The other thing that’s getting talked a lot about that will show up at the meat counter is animal health issues, particularly in the pork industry.These animal health issues do not affect human health, but they do decrease the amount of pork available. That could affect the prices at the grocery store by summer, Tonsor said.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Kansas State University. The original article was written by Lindsey Elliott. …

Read more

Monarch butterfly numbers could be at historic lows this year, study suggests

Monarch butterflies may be named for their large size and majestic beauty, but once again their numbers are anything but king-sized — in fact, 2014 may go down as one of the worst years ever for the colorful insects, says a Texas A&M Monarch watcher who is proposing a national effort to help feed Monarchs.Craig Wilson, a senior research associate in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education and a longtime butterfly enthusiast, says reports coming from Mexico where the Monarchs have their overwintering grounds show their numbers are significantly down yet again — so much so that this year might be one of the lowest yet for the butterfly.It’s been a disturbing trend that has been going for most of the past decade, he points out. This year, Monarchs face a triple whammy: a lingering drought, unusually cold winter temperatures and lack of milkweed, their primary food source.Citing figures from the Mexican government and the World Wildlife Fund, Wilson says, “In 1996, the Monarch breeding grounds in Mexico covered about 45 acres, and so far this year, it looks like only about 1.65 acres. That means fewer Monarchs will likely reach Texas to lay eggs, perhaps the lowest numbers ever of returning butterflies.”Wilson says the colder-than-usual winter, which set record lows in many parts of Texas and even Mexico, has had a chilling effect on Monarchs.”Unfortunately, the harsh and lingering cold conditions mean that the milkweed plants that Monarch caterpillars must have to live have yet to start growing, and these are the only plants on which they can lay eggs to provide food for their caterpillars,” he adds.Wilson says that last fall, the number of Monarchs that were netted and tagged in the College Station area was one-fifth the number tagged in 2012.The dry conditions during the past decade and changing farming practices are hampering the growth of milkweed, the only type of plant the Monarch caterpillars will digest as the multiple generational migration heads north.Texas also has had dozens of wildfires in the past few years that have hampered milkweed growth, and even though there are more than 30 types of milkweed in the state, the numbers are not there to sustain the Monarchs as they start their 2,000-mile migration trip to Canada. Increased use of pesticides is also adversely affecting milkweed production in a huge way, he notes.”The severe drought in Texas and much of the Southwest continues to wreak havoc with the number of Monarchs,” Wilson explains, adding that the wintering sites in the Mexican state of Michoacn are at near-historic lows.”The conditions have been dry both here and in Mexico in recent years. It takes four generations of the insects to make it all of the way up to Canada, and because of lack of milkweed along the way, a lot of them just don’t make it.”But if people want to help, they can pick up some milkweed plants right now at local farmer’s cooperative stores,” he says, “and this would be a small but helpful step to aid in their migration journey and to raise awareness of the plight.”Wilson says there has to be a national effort to save Monarchs or their declining numbers will reach the critical stage.”We need a national priority of planting milkweed to assure that this magical migration of Monarchs will continue for future generations,” he says.”If we could get several states to collaborate, we might be able to promote a program where the north-south interstates were planted with milkweed, such as Lady Bird Johnson’s program to plant native seeds along Texas highways 35-40 years ago. This would provide a ‘feeding’ corridor right up to Canada for the Monarchs.”Wilson is currently adding a variety of milkweed plants to the existing Cynthia Woods Mitchell Garden on the Texas A&M campus. He recommends the following sites for Monarch followers: Journey North, Texas Monarch Watch and Monarch Watch.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Texas A&M University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Read more

Web Tool Successfully Measures Farms’ Water Footprint

A new University of Florida web-based tool worked well during its trial run to measure water consumption at farms in four Southern states, according to a study published this month.The system measures the so-called “water footprint” of a farm. In the broader sense, water footprints account for the amount of water used to grow or create almost everything we eat, drink, wear or otherwise use.Researchers at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences introduced their WaterFootprint tool in the March issue of the journal Agricultural Systems, after using it to calculate water consumption at farms in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. The WaterFootprint is part of the AgroClimate system, developed by Clyde Fraisse, a UF associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering. AgroClimate is a web resource, aimed primarily at agricultural producers, that includes interactive tools and data for reducing agricultural risks.WaterFootprint, developed primarily by Daniel Dourte, a research associate in agricultural and biological engineering, estimates water use in crop production across the U.S. WaterFootprint looks at a farm in a specific year or growing season and gives you its water footprint, Dourte said. With UF’s WaterFootprint system, users provide their location by ZIP code, the crop, planting and harvesting dates, yield, soil type, tillage and water management.The tool also retrieves historical weather data and uses it to estimate the blue and green water footprints of crop production, Dourte said. Water footprints separate water use into green, which is rainfall; blue, from a freshwater resource; and gray, an accounting of water quality, after it’s been polluted.Water footprints can be viewed at the farm level or globally. For instance, if irrigation water is used to grow crops, it is essentially exported, Dourte said.Once products are shipped overseas, the water used to grow the commodity goes with it, and it may not return for a long time — if ever, Dourte said. That’s a problem if the crop is grown in a region where water is scarce, he said.But there’s often a tradeoff, he said. Global food trade saves billions of gallons of water each year, as food is exported from humid, temperate places to drier locales that would have used much more water to grow crops, Dourte said.”The U.S. …

Read more

Incentives needed to improve grain markets in India

Even after the agricultural reforms of 2002-03, for wheat, rice, and pearl millet farmers in India, grain markets are still pretty sticky. Two University of Illinois economists analyzed infrastructure of interstate trade for food-grain crops in three Indian states and found that grain farmers are unable to cash in on India’s market reforms and take advantage of a price difference between two or more markets.”We wanted to see if there was more integration in the markets since the 2002 reforms,” said Kathy Baylis. “We were surprised at how little integration we saw. Apparently there are still a lot of regulations in place. A lot of the wholesale markets are not open other than right around harvest. There is a strong incentive to sell at harvest because if you don’t you’d have to travel to Delhi or another major city. The ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss that provided the funding for this research is interested in storage, and what we found in India is that there was a huge disincentive to invest in on-farm storage because even if farmers could store their grain for six months or so, they wouldn’t be able to sell it then.”Baylis explained that, prior to the reforms of the early 2000s it was difficult in India to transport grain across state lines. The reforms made that easier and also expanded the number of people who could purchase and trade grain. Farmers used to have to go through a long, arduous process to become certified. The reforms eliminated some of those issues, but other problems still plague the system.”Some people may think of this as only an engineering problem,” Baylis said, “where we just need to develop a really good place for them to store the grain. …

Read more

Global food trade can alleviate water scarcity

International trade of food crops led to freshwater savings worth 2.4 billion US-Dollars in 2005 and had a major impact on local water stress. This is shown in a new study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Trading food involves the trade of virtually embedded water used for production, and the amount of that water depends heavily on the climatic conditions in the production region: It takes, for instance, 2.700 liters of water to produce 1 kilo of cereals in Morocco, while the same kilo produced in Germany uses up only 520 liters. Analyzing the impact of trade on local water scarcity, our scientists found that it is not the amount of water used that counts most, but the origin of the water. While parts of India or the Middle East alleviate their water scarcity through importing crops, some countries in Southern Europe export agricultural goods from water-scarce sites, thus increasing local water stress.”Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of our global freshwater consumption and therefore has a huge potential to affect local water scarcity,” lead author Anne Biewald says. The amount of water used in the production of agricultural export goods is referred to as virtual water trade. So far, however, the concept of virtual water could not identify the regional water source, but used national or even global averages instead. “Our analysis shows that it is not the amount of water that matters, but whether global food trade leads to conserving or depleting water reserves in water-scarce regions,” Biewald says.Combining biophysical simulations of the virtual water content of crop production with agro-economic land-use and water-use simulations, the scientists were able for the first time to determine the positive and negative impacts on water scarcity through international trade of crops, livestock and feed. The effects were analyzed with high resolution on a subnational level to account for large countries like India or the US with different climatic zones and relating varying local conditions regarding water availability and water productivity. Previously, these countries could only be evaluated through national average water productivity. …

Read more

True value of cover crops to farmers, environment

Planting cover crops in rotation between cash crops — widely agreed to be ecologically beneficial — is even more valuable than previously thought, according to a team of agronomists, entomologists, agroecologists, horticulturists and biogeochemists from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.”As society places increasing demands on agricultural land beyond food production to include ecosystem services, we needed a new way to evaluate ‘success’ in agriculture,” said Jason Kaye, professor of biogeochemistry. “This research presents a framework for considering a suite of ecosystem services that could be derived from agricultural land, and how cover crops affect that suite of services.”Cover cropping is one of the most rapidly growing soil and water conservation strategies in the Chesapeake Bay region and one we are really counting on for future improvements in water quality in the bay. Our analysis shows how the effort to improve water quality with cover crops will affect other ecosystem services that we expect from agricultural land.”The research, published in the March issue of Agricultural Systems, quantified the benefits offered by cover crops across more than 10 ecosystem services. Benefits included increased carbon and nitrogen in soils, erosion prevention, more mycorrhizal colonization — beneficial soil fungus that helps plants absorb nutrients — and weed suppression.Lead researcher Meagan Schipanski explained that commonly used measurements of ecosystem services can be misleading due to the episodic nature of some services and the time sensitivity of management windows.”For example, nutrient-retention benefits occur primarily during cover crop growth, weed-suppression benefits occur during cash-crop growth through a cover crop legacy effect, and soil-carbon benefits accrue slowly over decades,” she said. “By integrating a suite of ecosystem services into a unified analytical framework, we highlighted the potential for cover crops to influence a wide array of ecosystem services. We estimated that cover crops increased eight of 11 ecosystem services. In addition, we demonstrated the importance of considering temporal dynamics when assessing management system effects on ecosystem services.”Trade-offs occurred between economic metrics and environmental benefits, said Schipanski, who was a postdoctoral scholar at Penn State when she led the cover crop study. Now an assistant professor in the department of soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University, she noted that the planting of cover crops will become more attractive if fertilizer prices rise or if modest cost-sharing programs like the one currently in place in Maryland are developed.Researchers simulated a three-year, soybean-wheat-corn rotation with and without cover crops in central Pennsylvania, which presented agroecological conditions broadly representative of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. The cover crop rotation included red clover, frost-seeded into winter wheat in March, and winter rye, planted after corn was harvested in the fall. The research, funded by the U.S. …

Read more

Dry future climate could reduce orchid bee habitat

During Pleistocene era climate changes, neotropical orchid bees that relied on year-round warmth and wet weather found their habitats reduced by 30 to 50 percent, according to a Cornell University study that used computer models and genetic data to understand bee distributions during past climate changes.In previous studies, researchers have tracked male and female orchid bees and found that while females stay near their nests, male orchid bees travel, with one study concluding they roam as far as 7 kilometers per day. These past findings, corroborated by genetic data in the current study, reveal that males are more mobile than females.The study, published online in the journal Molecular Ecology, has important implications for future climate changes.”The dataset tells us that if the tendency is to have lower precipitation in combination with deforestation, the suitable habitat for the bees is going to be reduced,” said Margarita Lpez-Uribe, the paper’s first author and a graduate student at Cornell.The good news is that since male orchid bees habitually travel far, they can keep bee populations connected and healthy.”The males are mediating genetic exchange among populations, maintaining connectivity in spite of fragmentation of habitats,” said Lpez-Uribe. “This is a possible mechanism bees could use to ameliorate the negative impacts of population isolation resulting from future climate changes and deforestation.”By looking at current climate and bee distributions, Lpez-Uribe and colleagues assessed parameters of climate conditions that each of three bee species within the genus Eulaema could tolerate physiologically, including temperature and precipitation variability. She found that one of the three species, Eulaema cingulata, was three times more tolerant to a variety of climatic conditions.By proceeding with the caveat that physiological tolerance has remained constant — species tend to be evolutionarily conservative about shifting their niches — the researchers used computer models to simulate past bee distributions based on climate conditions in the Pleistocene. The results showed that in the past, during periods when the neotropics had lowered precipitation, each species experienced significant reduction in suitable habitat, with E. cingulata maintaining the largest geographical ranges.Climate and ecological niche computer model simulations were closely matched by genetic data of the two less-tolerant orchid bee species. The genetic data included mitochondrial markers, which are only inherited from females, and nuclear markers, which come from males and females. The mitochondrial DNA showed that individual bees in one geographic area were more closely related to each other than to bees from other areas. The findings suggest the maternal lines of these bees remained in the area and shared the same pools of DNA over time. But the bi-parental nuclear DNA showed more variation between individuals within an area, offering evidence that males traveled and shared their DNA with other regional groups.Orchid bees live in the neotropics, an ecozone that includes part of South and Central America, the Mexican lowlands and the Caribbean islands. …

Read more

Cultural hitchhiking: How social behavior can affect genetic makeup in dolphins

A UNSW-led team of researchers studying bottlenose dolphins that use sponges as tools has shown that social behaviour can shape the genetic makeup of an animal population in the wild.Some of the dolphins in Shark Bay in Western Australia put conical marine sponges on their rostrums (beaks) when they forage on the sea floor — a non-genetic skill that calves apparently learn from their mother.Lead author, Dr Anna Kopps, says sponging dolphins end up with some genetic similarities because the calves also inherit DNA from their mothers. As well, it is likely that sponging dolphins are descendants of a “sponging Eve,” a female dolphin that first developed the innovation.”Our research shows that social learning should be considered as a possible factor that shapes the genetic structure of a wild animal population,” says Dr Kopps.”It is one of the first studies to show this effect — which is called cultural hitchhiking — in animals other than people.”The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.Dr Kopps and her colleagues identified individual dolphins in western Shark Bay about 850 kilometres north of Perth. They observed them from a boat as they foraged for food, travelled around the bay, rested, and played with other dolphins.Genetic samples were also taken, and analysed for mitochondrial DNA type, which is only inherited from the mother.It was found that the dolphins that lived in shallow waters, where sponges do not grow, mainly fell into a genetic group called Haplotype H.The dolphins living in deep waters, where sponges do grow, were predominantly Haplotype E or Haplotype F.”This striking geographic distribution of a genetic sequence cannot be explained by chance,” says Dr Kopps, who carried out the research while at UNSW and is now at the University of Groningen.As well, the DNA results from 22 dolphins that both lived in deep water and used sponges as tools showed they were all Haplotype E.”For humans we have known for a long time that culture is an important factor in shaping our genetics. Now we have shown for the first time that a socially transmitted behaviour like tool use can also lead to different genetic characteristics within a single animal population, depending on which habitat they live in,” she says.The team includes UNSW’s Professor Bill Sherwin and researchers from the University of Zurich and Murdoch University.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of New South Wales. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Read more

Eel expedition 2014 has arrived in The Sargasso Sea

The research vessel Dana is currently in the Sargasso Sea on an intensive research expedition to the European eel’s spawning grounds subsequently following the eel larvae’s drift back to Europe. The Sargasso Sea is a large oceanic area between Bermuda and the West Indies. There are 19 species of eel in the world. Two of them spawn in the Sargasso Sea: The American and The European Eel.In the past 30 years there has been a dramatic decline in the European eel population. Today, the number of young eel returning to the coasts of Europe is just 2-10 per cent of the quantities seen in the 1970s. In 2008, the dramatic decline in eel numbers led the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to add the eel to its list of critically endangered species.A characteristic feature of the European eel is that spawning takes place far from the juvenile nursery grounds in Europe, requiring the eel larvae to ride the ocean currents for a 6,000 kilometre return journey across the Atlantic. The expedition will investigate whether climate-related changes in the eel’s spawning grounds or the ocean currents transporting the eel larvae to Europe are responsible for the eel’s sharp decline. The expedition will also gather information on the food preferences of the newly hatched eel — the understanding of eel larval feeding is a prerequisite for successful rearing of larvae and the farming of eel. Farmed eel can be used for re-stocking and using these for consumption would lower the fishing pressure on the population.The expedition brings together almost 40 experts from a wide range of research areas at both Danish and international universities and institutions (including French, German,Swedish and American participants). The expedition, which is headed by Senior Researcher Peter Munk from DTU Aqua, is funded by the Danish Centre for Marine Research and the Carlsberg Foundation. …

Read more

Utilizzando il sito, accetti l'utilizzo dei cookie da parte nostra. maggiori informazioni

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close