Putting a price on ecological restoration

Putting a price on clean water and soil fertility helps the UN set ecological restoration targets for degraded and deforested land.Forests provide essential ecosystem services for people, including timber, food and water. For those struggling with the after-effects of deforestation, the main hope lies in rebuilding forest resources through ecological restoration.Researchers at BU have shown that placing a monetary value on ecosystem services provides a mechanism for evaluating the costs and benefits of reforestation activity.”Ecological restoration initiatives are being undertaken around the world, attracting investment of $US billions annually,” explained Professor Adrian Newton. “They make a significant contribution to sustainable development but few attempts have been made to systematically evaluate their effectiveness.”To address this knowledge gap, Professor Newton and fellow BU researchers analysed 89 different types of restored ecosystem sites across the world. The results showed that, although restored land was not as productive as land that had not been degraded, restoration efforts increased biodiversity by 44% and provision of ecosystem services by 25%.What’s unique about Professor Newton’s research is that it also provides one of the first evidence-based assessments of how cost-effective ecological restoration initiatives actually are.Professor Newton developed this method as part of the ReForLan research project in the dryland forests of Latin America. ReForLAn brought together researchers from six countries to assess the environmental degradation and the potential for ecological recovery through restoration.The methodology assigns financial value to ecosystem services, such as the provision of clean water, carbon storage and soil fertility that would result from restoration, thereby demonstrating how cost effective these efforts are.”We examined whether ecological restoration can be cost effective, based on the value of ecosystem services provided by restoration actions,” he explained. “This was undertaken by analysing the value of the increased provision of ecosystem services that could potentially be provided as a result of ecological restoration actions.”So successful is the methodology that it was used to inform the United Nations Environment Programme’s restoration targets and specifically ‘Target 15’ of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets to restore 15% of the world’s degraded ecosystems by 2020.The UN say these targets can be achieved through Forest Landscape Restoration, which is an approach developed, tested and refined by Professor Newton during the ReForLan project.”We examined how Forest Landscape Restoration may be implemented in practice, and evaluated the cost effectiveness of this approach and its benefit to human communities,” he explained.Professor Newton has demonstrated that at the heart of successful forest landscape restoration is a flexible and adaptive approach. It should allow communities to participate in the decision-making process, and enhance ecosystem service provision for those living within them.The Forest Landscape Restoration method has been heralded as the solution to restoring 150 million acres of degraded and deforested land. This target is part of a global movement, known as ‘Bonn Challenge’, named from its inception in Bonn, Germany in 2011. Individual countries have so far committed to restoring 50 million hectares of forest, which is a significant step towards achieving the policy goals.”This initiative directly employs the Forest Landscape Restoration approach that we researched, developed, tested and refined,” explains Professor Newton.He conclude, “Ecosystems are a rich source of biodiversity and the services they provide are relied upon by local people. The approach developed through the ReForLan project allows policy makers to identify locations where ecological restoration is most likely to be cost effective.”ReForLan was funded by the European Commission and the full title of the project is ‘Restoration of Forest Landscapes for Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Development’.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Bournemouth University. …

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Medication does not reduce risk of recurrent cardiac events among patients with diabetes

Use of the drug aleglitazar, which has shown the ability to lower glucose levels and have favorable effects on cholesterol, did not reduce the risk of cardiovascular death, heart attack or stroke among patients with type 2 diabetes and recent heart attack or unstable angina, according to a JAMA study released online to coincide with presentation at the 2014 American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions.Cardiovascular disease remains the dominant cause of death among patients with type 2 diabetes. No drug therapy specifically directed against diabetes nor strategy for tight glucose control has been shown to unequivocally reduce the rate of cardiovascular complications in this population, according to background information in the article. In phase 2 trials, aleglitazar significantly reduced glycated hemoglobin levels (measure of blood glucose over an extended period of time), triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C).A. Michael Lincoff, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic, and colleagues conducted a phase 3 trial in which 7,226 patients hospitalized for heart attack or unstable angina with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to receive aleglitazar or placebo daily. The AleCardio trial was conducted in 720 hospitals in 26 countries throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific regions.The trial was terminated early (July 2013) after an average follow-up of 104 weeks, due to lack of efficacy and a higher rate of adverse events in the aleglitazar group.The researchers found that although aleglitazar reduced glycated hemoglobin and improved serum HDL-C and triglyceride levels, the drug did not decrease the time to cardiovascular death, nonfatal heart attack, or nonfatal stroke (primary end points). These events occurred in 344 patients (9.5 percent) in the aleglitazar group and 360 patients (10.0 percent) in the placebo group.Aleglitazar use was associated with increased risk of kidney abnormalities, bone fractures, gastrointestinal bleeding, and hypoglycemia (low blood sugars).”These findings do not support the use of aleglitazar in this setting with a goal of reducing cardiovascular risk,” the authors conclude.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by The JAMA Network Journals. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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New structure in dogs’ eye linked to blinding retinal diseases

In humans, a tiny area in the center of the retina called the fovea is critically important to viewing fine details. Densely packed with cone photoreceptor cells, it is used while reading, driving and gazing at objects of interest. Some animals have a similar feature in their eyes, but researchers believed that among mammals the fovea was unique to primates — until now.University of Pennsylvania vision scientists report that dogs, too, have an area of their retina that strongly resembles the human fovea. What’s more, this retinal region is susceptible to genetic blinding diseases in dogs just as it is in humans.”It’s incredible that in 2014 we can still make an anatomical discovery in a species that we’ve been looking at for the past 20,000 years and that, in addition, this has high clinical relevance to humans,” said William Beltran, an assistant professor of ophthalmology in Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine and co-lead author of the study with Artur Cideciyan, research professor of ophthalmology in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.”It is absolutely exhilarating to be able to investigate this very specialized and important part of canine central vision that has such unexpectedly strong resemblance to our own retina,” Cideciyan added.Additional coauthors included Penn Vet’s Karina E. Guziewicz, Simone Iwabe, Erin M. Scott, Svetlana V. Savina, Gordon Ruthel and senior author Gustavo D. Aguirre; Perelman’s Malgorzata Swider, Lingli Zhang, Richard Zorger, Alexander Sumaroka and Samuel G. Jacobson; and the Penn School of Dental Medicine’s Frank Stefano.The paper was published in the journal PLOS ONE.The word “fovea” comes from the Latin meaning “pit,” owing to the fact that in humans and many other primates, the inner layers of the retina are thin in this area, while the outer layers are packed with cone photoreceptor cells. It is believed that this inner layer thinning allows the foveal cone cells privileged access to light.It is known that dogs have what is called an area centralis, a region around the center of the retina with a relative increase in cone photoreceptor cell density. …

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Horse gaits controlled by genetic mutation spread by humans

From the Faroe Pony to the Spanish Mustang, fewer animals have played such a central role in human history as the horse. New research in Animal Genetics reveals that a horse’s gait, an attribute central to its importance to humans, is influenced by a genetic mutation, spread by humans across the world.The team, led by Dr. Leif Andersson from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, explored the distribution of a mutation in the DMRT3 gene which affects the gait of horses, known as the ‘gait keeper.'”All over the world, horses have been used for everyday transportation, in military settings, cattle herding and agricultural power, pulling carriages and carts, pleasure riding or racing,” said Dr. Andersson. “Over the centuries, horse populations and breeds have been shaped by humans based on the different purposes for which the animals were used.”The DMRT3 gene is central to the utility of horses to humans, as it controls a range of gaits as well as pace. From racing to pleasure riding, many species have been bred to encourage smoothness of gait.”For example, the Paso Fino is a breed from Latin America in which the frequency of the ‘gait keeper’ mutation is nearly 100%. It is claimed that the Paso Fino gait is so smooth that you can have a glass of wine in your hand without letting it spill,” said Dr. Andersson.The team analyzed 4,396 horses from 141 breeds around the world and found that the ‘gait keeper’ mutation is spread across Eurasia from Japan in the East, to the British Isles in West, on Iceland, in both South and North America, and also in breeds from South Africa.”Humans have spread this mutation across the world primarily because horses carrying this mutation are able to provide a very smooth ride, in some breeds referred to as a running walk,” said Dr. Andersson. “During such ambling gaits the horse has at least one foot on the ground that means that the vertical movement of the rider is minimal.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Wiley. …

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A virus changes its stripes: Human outbreak of eastern equine encephalitis

Aug. 22, 2013 — In the summer of 2010, the eastern Panamanian province of Darien experienced a phenomenon that had never been seen before in Latin America: a human outbreak of eastern equine encephalitis.The mosquito-borne virus that causes the disease is found all over the Americas, and infects horses throughout its range. Human infections are diagnosed every year in North America and are taken quite seriously; they carry a 50 percent chance of mortality, and can result in lifelong neurological damage. But 2010 marked a dramatic change in the way the virus behaved in Latin America.”Until the Darien outbreak, we had become convinced that the virus in South America was fundamentally different in its ability to infect people and cause serious disease,” said University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston professor Scott Weaver, senior author of a paper on the epidemic appearing in the August 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. “This epidemic broke that dogma’s back very quickly.”UTMB researchers collaborated with Panamanian scientists to investigate the outbreak, testing samples from 174 patients and many horses. In the end, they confirmed 13 human cases of eastern equine encephalitis and one case of dual infection of both eastern and Venezuelan equine encephalitis.”We saw only about a one in 10 case-fatality rate in Panama, which is low by U.S. standards,” Weaver said. “Still, if this virus has changed and become more virulent for people, we need to know, number one, is it going to spread to other parts of Latin America or number two, are other Latin American strains likely to do the same thing?”Weaver noted that earlier studies have shown that the eastern equine encephalitis virus is common in many Latin American locations where human exposure to virus-carrying mosquitoes is high. Since the virus is constantly mutating, it’s possible that a strain like the one seen in 2010 in Panama could take hold in an ecosystem in nearby Colombia, Ecuador or the Peruvian Amazon.”With a situation where a lot of people are being exposed to the virus, there would be the potential for a lot of new disease,” Weaver said. “So it’s important to understand what’s happening in Panama both for the Panamanians and for people all over Latin America.”

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Super sunscreen from fjord bacteria

Aug. 6, 2013 — A microorganism living in Trondheim Fjord will provide you with better protection against skin cancer and malignant melanomas.Norwegian researchers have recently discovered a microorganism with very special properties — a bacteria living in Trondheim Fjord with the Latin name Micrococcus luteus. It possesses a trait which is rare and highly sought-after by medical science and the cosmetics industry — a pigment which can absorb long-wavelength UV radiation (in the range 350-475 nanometres).Links with cancerLong-wavelength UV radiation is linked to many forms of skin cancer and malignant melanomas. Currently, there are no sunscreens on the market able to filter out this type of radiation.However, the Norwegian company Promar AS has taken out patents for both the manufacture and use in future sunscreens of a light-filtering substance extracted from this bacterium. This has been achieved with the help of researchers at SINTEF.At SINTEF, researchers have been working with what is known as bioprospecting for many years. This branch of science involves the exploration for organisms in the natural environment possessing traits useful in industrial applications, as fatty acids, antibiotics, enzymes and suchlike.A bacterial library in the labThe backdrop to this project involved activities taking place at SINTEF and NTNU by which we collected a variety of different microorganisms from the water surface in Trondheim Fjord. These organisms had one thing in common. They possessed a variety of naturally-occurring light-absorbing pigments. “This is why they are very colourful,” says Trygve Brautaset, Project and Research Manager at SINTEF. The end result was an entire “library” of such microorganisms.At about the same time, the Norwegian company Promar AS had been working on the idea of manufacturing a substance with a property lacking in sunscreen products currently on the market — the ability to filter out long-wavelength UV radiation.This is why SINTEF and NTNU were contracted to look for a pigment with this trait. …

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China is outsourcing carbon: Key findings on regional, global impact of trade on environment

June 10, 2013 — In the wake of concerns over climate change and other emergent environmental issues, both individuals and governments are examining the impact of consumer and producer behavior and policies. In two new studies, three researchers from the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences publish groundbreaking findings on the environmental impact of globalization, production and trade on both regional and international scales.Professor Klaus Hubacek and researchers Yang Yu and Kuishuang Feng’s “Tele-connecting local consumption to global land use” appeared in Global Environmental Change and is available now online. Hubacek and Feng, with co-authors from leading institutions worldwide, published “Outsourcing CO2 within China” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”Tele-connecting local consumption to global land use”As local consumption is increasingly met by global supply chains, often involving great geographical distances, the impact of consumer behavior on the environment is becoming increasingly apparent. Hubacek, Yu and Feng’s research concretely connects local consumption to global land use through tracking global commodity and value chains via international trade flows. Specifically, they have zeroed in on land use attributed to “unusual” sectors, including services, machinery and equipment, and construction.Their findings show how developed countries, such as the United States, consume a large amount of goods and services from both domestic and international markets, and thus impose pressure on their domestic land resources and displace land in other countries, creating an impact on how land is used, and consuming land that could potentially be used in more environmentally friendly ways. For example, 33 percent of total U.S. land use for consumption purposes is displaced from other countries, which is actually at the lower end of the global spectrum: the ratio becomes much larger for the EU (more than 50 percent) and Japan (92 percent).The researchers have also illustrated the vast gap between consumption habits of rich and relatively poor countries. Their research shows that rich countries tend to displace land by consuming non-agricultural products, such as services, clothing and household appliances, which account for more than 50 percent of their total land displacement. For developing economies, such as African countries, the share of land use for non-agricultural products is much lower, with an average of seven percent.”In addition, the emerging economies and population giants, China and India, are likely to further increase their appetite for land from other countries, such as Africa, Russia and Latin America, to satisfy their own land needs driven by their fast economic growth and the needs and lifestyles of their growing populations,” Hubacek said. “Obviously, there are significant global consequences when these types of demands exceed the supply of land. …

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Hubble maps 3-D structure of ejected material around erupting star

June 4, 2013 — A flash of light from a stellar outburst has provided a rare look at the 3-D structure of material ejected by an erupting nova.Astronomers used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to observe the light emitted by the close double-star system T Pyxidis, or T Pyx, a recurring nova, during its latest outburst in April 2011.A nova erupts when a white dwarf, the burned-out core of a sun-like star, has siphoned off enough hydrogen from a companion star to trigger a thermonuclear runaway. As hydrogen builds up on the surface of the white dwarf, it becomes hotter and denser until it detonates like a colossal hydrogen bomb, leading to a 10,000-fold increase in brightness in a little more than one day. Nova explosions are extremely powerful, equal to a blast of one million billion tons of dynamite. T Pyx erupts every 12 to 50 years.Contrary to some predictions, the astronomers were surprised to find the ejecta from earlier outbursts stayed in the vicinity of the star and formed a disk of debris around the nova. The discovery suggests material continues expanding outward along the system’s orbital plane, but it does not escape the system.”We fully expected this to be a spherical shell,” says Arlin Crotts of Columbia University, a member of the research team. “This observation shows it is a disk, and it is populated with fast-moving ejecta from previous outbursts.”Team member Stephen Lawrence of Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., will present the results Tuesday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Indianapolis.Team member Jennifer Sokoloski, also of Columbia University and co-investigator on the project, suggests these data indicate the companion star plays an important role in shaping how material is ejected, presumably along the system’s orbital plane, creating the pancake-shaped disk. The disk is tilted about 30 degrees from face-on toward Earth.Using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, the team took advantage of the blast of light emitted by the erupting nova to trace the light’s path as it lit up the disk and material from previous ejecta. The disk is so vast, about a light-year across, that the nova’s light cannot illuminate all of the material at once. Instead, the light sweeps across the material, sequentially illuminating parts of the disk, a phenomenon called a light echo. The light reveals which parts of the disk are nearer to Earth and which sections are farther away. …

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