Found this book on soil biology which highlights the importance of this soil food web. Excellent microscopy photos here, well worth checking over if you’ve never seen them before or if your thinking about looking at soil under a microscope. It also covers several other things like Seasonal Microbial Activity, Typical Numbers of Soil Organisms in Healthy Ecosystems, Methods for Measuring the Food Web etc. I loved reading this, I’m sure anyone who’s interesting in anything plant/soil related would too.
A major review comparing organic and conventional farming has found organic crop yields are much higher than previously thought.
The analysis of 115 studies showed that organic crop yields were only 19.2% lower on average than conventional crops, a smaller difference than previous estimates.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, also found that certain practices could further shrink the productivity gap between organic and conventional farming.
Senior study author Prof Claire Kremen said: “With global food needs predicted to greatly increase in the next 50 years, it’s critical to look more closely at organic farming, because aside from the environmental effects of industrial agriculture, the ability of synthetic fertilisers to increase crop yields has been declining.”
The researchers pointed out that the available studies comparing farming methods were often biased in favour of conventional agriculture, so the estimate of the yield gap is likely overestimated.
Species across land, rivers and seas decimated as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and destroy habitats
The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found.
“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.” He said nature, which provides food and clean water and air, was essential for human wellbeing.
“We have lost one half of the animal population and knowing this is driven by human consumption, this is clearly a call to arms and we must act now,” said Mike Barratt, director of science and policy at WWF. He said more of the Earth must be protected from development and deforestation, while food and energy had to be produced sustainably.
I’ve just bought and watched this very informative documentary film about setting up and maintaining a “permaculture commercial orchard”, excellent for people wondering what permaculture looks like in a commerical sense then this is it. I really enjoyed the aspects on biodiversity, tree pruning, shrub and herbaceous planting, attracting beneficials etc. You might want to consider buying this one, I’m glad I did.
“The Permaculture Orchard : Beyond Organic is a feature-length educational film that will teach you how to set up your own permaculture orchard at any scale. We recognize the limitations of the organic model as a substitute to conventional fruit growing, and want to propose a more holistic, regenerative approach based on permaculture principles. Based on 20 years of applied theory and trial and error, biologist and educator Stefan Sobkowiak shares his experience transforming a conventional apple orchard into an abundance of biodiversity that virtually takes care of itself. The concepts, techniques and tips presented in this film will help you with your own project, whether it is just a few fruit trees in your urban backyard, or a full-scale multi-acre commercial orchard.”
New research has identified what may be the future of sustainable livestock production: silvopastoral systems which include shrubs and trees with edible leaves or fruits as well as herbage.
Consumers are increasingly demanding higher standards for how their meat is sourced, with animal welfare and the impact on the environment factoring in many purchases. Unfortunately, many widely-used livestock production methods are currently unsustainable. However, new research out today from the University of Cambridge has identified what may be the future of sustainable livestock production: silvopastoral systems which include shrubs and trees with edible leaves or fruits as well as herbage.
Professor Donald Broom, from the University of Cambridge, who led the research said: “Consumers are now demanding more sustainable and ethically sourced food, including production without negative impacts on animal welfare, the environment and the livelihood of poor producers. Silvopastoral systems address all of these concerns with the added benefit of increased production in the long term.”
Continue reading “Sustainable Livestock Production Is Possible”
Does organic farming foster biodiversity? The answer is yes, however, the number of habitats on the land plays an important role alongside the type and intensity of farming practices. These are the findings of an international study that looked at ten regions in Europe and two in Africa. The results has been published in Nature Communications. The study shows that even organic farms have to actively support biodiversity by, for example, conserving different habitats on their holdings.
An international team, including scientists from Technische Universität München (TUM), investigated the contribution of organic farming to supporting farmland biodiversity between 2010 and 2013. Researchers wanted to explore whether organic farms are home to more species than their conventional neighbors. The team used uniform methods across Europe to capture data and analyze it to establish the impact of farming methods and intensity and of landscape features on biodiversity.
“Organic farming is beneficial to the richness of plant and bee species. However, observed benefits concentrate on arable fields,” says TUM’s Prof. Kurt-Jürgen Hülsbergen. His Chair for Organic Agriculture and Agronomy analyzed 16 Bavarian dairy farms.
The study investigated farms in twelve regions with different production systems. In each region, farms were selected randomly, half of them certified organic for at least five years. In Switzerland, grassland-based cattle farms were studied and in Austria the study looked at arable farms. In Italy and Spain, researchers focused on farms with permanent crops such as wine and olives, and on small-scale subsistence farms in Uganda.
More species because of field boundaries
More species were found in organic arable fields than in non-organic fields. In contrast, there was little difference in grasslands or vineyards. Organic farming benefited the four taxonomic groups of plants, earthworms, spiders and bees — which were sampled as surrogates for the multitude of creatures living on farmland — in different ways. In general, more species of plants and bees were found on organic than on non-organic fields, but not more species of spiders and earthworms.
Organic nitrogen gives new clue to biodiversity
Dated: 12 April 2006
Scientists have found that organic nitrogen is more important for plant growth than previously thought and could contribute to maintaining diversity in grasslands.
Until recently it was generally believed that the most important source of nitrogen for plants was inorganic nitrogen. However, researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) from the University of Lancaster and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) have found that not only can organic nitrogen be directly taken up by plants it is also used differently by different species, enabling nitrogen sharing and biodiversity.
By tagging organic nitrogen with stable isotopes researchers have challenged the long held idea that organic nitrogen has to be first converted into an inorganic form before the plants can use it. Their findings have significant implications in unfertilised, low-productivity grasslands where organic nitrogen often appears in greater concentrations than inorganic forms.
Professor Richard Bardgett, lead researcher at the University of Lancaster explained: “This research provides important new information about what happens to organic nitrogen in real ecosystems in real time. Tagging amino acids also revealed that different plant species prefer different sources of organic nitrogen. These preferences may be a way for plants and microbes to avoid competition with their neighbours for nitrogen when it is in very short supply, effectively enabling them to share nitrogen and maintain biodiversity.”
This volume explores the current state of knowledge on the role of agricultural biodiversity in improving diets, nutrition and food security. Using examples and case studies from around the globe, the book explores current strategies for improving nutrition and diets and identifies key research and implementation gaps that need to be addressed to successfully promote the better use of agricultural biodiversity for rural and urban populations and societies in transition.
“Currently 868 million people are undernourished and 195 million children under five years of age are stunted. At the same time, over 1 billion people are overweight and obese in both the developed and developing world. Diseases previously associated with affluence, such as cancer, diabetes and cardio-vascular disease, are on the rise. Food system-based approaches to addressing these problems that could enhance food availability and diet quality through local production and agricultural biodiversity often fall outside the traditional scope of nutrition, and have been under-researched. As a consequence, there remains insufficient evidence to support well-defined, scalable agricultural biodiversity interventions that can be linked to improvements in nutrition outcomes.
Agricultural biodiversity is important for food and nutritional security, as a safeguard against hunger, a source of nutrients for improved dietary diversity and quality, and strengthening local food systems and environmental sustainability. This book explores the current state of knowledge on the role of agricultural biodiversity in improving diets, nutrition and food security. Using examples and case studies from around the globe, the book explores current strategies for improving nutrition and diets and identifies key research and implementation gaps that need to be addressed to successfully promote the better use of agricultural biodiversity for rural and urban populations and societies in transition.”
You can download the whole book using this link: http://www.bioversityinternational.org/uploads/tx_news/Diversifying_food_and_diets_1688_01.pdf
The US plans to create the world’s biggest marine protected area (MPA) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The White House will extend an existing protected area, known as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Fishing and drilling would be banned from an area that could eventually cover two million sq km. The extended zone would double the world’s fully protected marine reserves.
Rare species; The Pacific Remote Islands Area is controlled by the US and consists of seven scattered islands, atolls and reefs that lie between Hawaii and American Samoa.
Essentially uninhabited, the waters that surround these remote islands are home to a wide range of species including corals, seabirds, sharks and vegetation not found anywhere else in the world.
In 2009, President Bush declared the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, giving the islands the same level of protection as statues or cultural sites.
Now President Obama has signalled that he will extend the area that will be off limits to fishing and mineral exploitation to the limit of US economic control – some 200 nautical miles around the islands.
The White House said the final size of the protected zone would depend on consultations with scientists, fishing and conservation organisations. The Washington Post reported that this would eventually cover up two million sq km.
“This area contains some of the most pristine tropical marine environment in the world,” said White House senior counsel John Podesta, who made the announcement.
“These tropical coral reefs and associated ecosystems are among the marine environments facing the most serious threat from climate change and ocean acidification.”
A new study published in the internationally recognized journal Science has determined that the current rate of species extinctions is more than 1,000 times greater than the background rate calculated from the fossil record and genetic data, spanning millions of years. The primary cause of this dramatic rise in the loss of species is human population growth and increased consumption, according to the study.
“This important study confirms that species are going extinct at a pace not seen in tens of millions of years, and unlike past extinction events, the cause is us,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The loss of species has drastic consequences for us all by degrading ecosystems that clean our air and water and are a source of food and medicine, and by making our world less interesting and a more lonely place. This study underscores the importance of laws like the Endangered Species Act and the need for swift action to reverse the disturbing trend of extinction.”
In likely the most comprehensive assessment of species extinction rates yet, the study led by acclaimed conservation biologist Dr. Stuart Pimm of Duke University found the rate at which mammals, birds and amphibians are moving toward extinction over the past four decades would have been 20 percent higher were it not for conservation efforts.
The study uses newly available data on species distributions and imperilment to quantify the current extinction rate, which was estimated to be at least 100 extinctions per million species-years. The researchers then analyzed extensive data on rates of speciation and extinction over millions of years to estimate a background or natural rate of extinction of .1 extinctions per million species-years, leading to the new estimate that we have increased the rate of extinction by at least 1,000 times.
This estimate is considered conservative because of the large number of species still unknown to science, the fact that a majority of such species are likely to be rare and at risk, and uncertainties in predicting future extinctions given increased habitat destruction, spread of invasive species and diseases, and global warming.
“The findings of this study are alarming to say the least,” said Greenwald. “But it also shows we can make a difference if we choose to and should be a clarion call to take action to protect more habitat for species besides our own and to check our own population growth and consumption.”
The study further notes that some groups of species are going extinct at even greater rates. North American freshwater fishes, for example, were found to be going extinct at a rate of 305 extinctions per million species-years, or more than 3,000 times greater than the background rate, and the continent’s snails and slugs are going extinct at a rate nearly 10,000 times background. These high rates reflect the degree to which we have degraded rivers and lakes in North America with dams, pollution, spread of non-native species and direct destruction.
“There can be no question that we’re fouling our own nest, but what this study shows is that this has consequences not just for us, but for the millions of other species with which we share this world,” said Greenwald.”
ARTICLE LINK: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2014/extinction-rate-05-29-2014.html
STUDY LINK: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6187/1246752.abstract?sid=a4435a49-708d-44b5-9101-e5c5abf91eb0
NAT-GEO LINK: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/05/140529-conservation-science-animals-species-endangered-extinction/