Category: agriculture

Study IDs new parasite threat to honeybees

Detection could enable early intervention

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Pollinators are facing a broad range of threats, from pesticides and disease, to a new species of harmful parasites. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

There could be more trouble ahead for pollinators, as a new species of Varroa mite is developing the ability to parasitize European honeybees. That’s a new threat for insects already under pressure from pesticides, nutritional deficiencies and disease, according to a Purdue University study.

The scienists found some populations of Varroa jacobsoni mites are shifting from feeding and reproducing on Asian honeybees, their preferred host, to European honeybees, the primary species used for crop pollination and honey production worldwide. To bee researchers, it’s a grimly familiar story: V. destructor made the same host leap at least 60 years ago, spreading rapidly to become the most important global health threat to European honeybees. Continue reading “Study IDs new parasite threat to honeybees”

Study shows how soils could become source of CO2

A classic "Vierkant" farmhouse in the Mühlviertel.
When do agricultural lands become net sources of carbon, rather than carbon sinks? @bberwyn photo.

More conversion to forests and grasslands needed …

Staff Report

Aggressive land disturbance could turn Earth’s soils into sources of CO2 by the end of the century, researchers warned in a new study combining models of soil carbon and land use change with climate change predictions, using France as a case study.

Currently, soil is considered to be a net carbon sink, partially counteracting the impacts of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, but study projects that up to 25 percent of the carbon in found in soil in France could be lost to the atmosphere during the next 100 years.

Business-as-usual land use change has limited capacity to counteract this trend, experts from the University of Exeter, INRA and CERFACS in France and University of Leuven in Belgium say in the journal Scientific Reports. If soils lose a significant amount of carbon it will endanger their ability to produce food and store water, potentially leading to increased soil erosion and flood damage. Continue reading “Study shows how soils could become source of CO2”

Queen bees exposed to neonicotinoids lay fewer eggs

Systemic pesticides seen to affect hives in various ways

honeybees neonicotinoids
A wild bumblebee foraging for pollen. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

A new study led by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln entomologist reinforces the link between neonicotinoid pesticides and declining honeybee colonies. The researchers experimentally fed queen bees with a syrup laced with imidacloprid, finding that queens laid significantly fewer eggs than queens in unexposed colonies.

“The queens are of particular importance because they’re the only reproductive individual laying eggs in the colony,” said lead author Judy Wu-Smart, assistant professor of entomology. “One queen can lay up to 1,000 eggs a day. If her ability to lay eggs is reduced, that is a subtle effect that isn’t (immediately) noticeable but translates to really dramatic consequences for the colony.” Continue reading “Queen bees exposed to neonicotinoids lay fewer eggs”

Climate change may be factor in spread of tree fungus

Signs of hope? A single Douglas-fir grows at the base of the clearcut area along Swan Mountain Road. It'll be interesting to watch the area during the next few years to see how it regenerates.
Global warming may be promoting growth of a tree-damaging fungus in the Pacific Northwest. @bberwyn photo.

Commercially valuable tree stands take hit in Pacific Northwest

Staff Report

Global warming may be a factor in the spread of a fungus affecting valuable Douglas fir forests in the Pacific Northwest. Needle cast disease has recently spread across 590,000 acres in Oregon,  quadrupling since the start of surveys in 1996. The annual economic loss has been estimated at $128 million.

“The correlation between disease severity and climate factors, such as spring moisture and warm winter temperatures, raises the question of a link between disease expansion and climate change,” said  researcher Gabriela Ritokova. “Those factors, in combination with lots of Douglas fir and with large springtime fungal spore production, have us where we are now.” Continue reading “Climate change may be factor in spread of tree fungus”

Air pollution seen as another factor in honeybee decline

Ozone degrades scent molecules

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Air pollution makes it harder for bees and other insects to find flowers. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Air pollution is changing plant odors, which confuses bees and makes them less efficient at foraging and pollinating plants, Penn State researchers said in a new study that shows how ozone breaks down plant-emitted scent molecules.

The chemical interactions decrease both the scent molecules’ life spans and the distances they travel, the scientists reported in the new study. They found that plant-emitted hydrocarbons break down through chemical interactions with certain air pollutants such as ozone. This breakdown process results in the creation of more air pollutants, including hydroxyl and nitrate radicals, which further increase the breakdown rate of plant odors. Continue reading “Air pollution seen as another factor in honeybee decline”

Can the Hochbärneckalm survive global warming?

Climate change threatens traditional mountain agriculture in the Alps

Hochbärneck Alm Austria
The Hochbärneck Alm (900 meters) in Lower Austria’s Alpine region. @bberwyn photo.

Supported by the Earth Journalism Network and Internews

By Bob Berwyn

LOWER AUSTRIA — Austria’s high alpine pastures, called Alms, are an important part of the country’s cultural tradition. For centuries, herders have driven cattle and sheep up and down the sides of the mountains following seasonal cycles of plant growth and snow melt.

The livestock grazing is managed mindfully to promote vegetation growth and biodiversity. It may be a difficult concept to grasp at first, but the rhythm of alpine grazing actually fosters biodiversity. Orchids, medicinal herbs and wildflowers thrive in the clearings and create lush green open patches in the landscape that are aesthetically pleasing.

In recent decades, the simple shelter huts near the pastures have also been developed as a recreational and economic resource, providing meals and lodging for tourists and serving as base camps for trekkers and cyclists.

At the Hochbärneck Alm, 900 meters elevation, there are also two ski lifts, but this past winter, they only operated for two days. Just 20 years ago, the ski season ran from late November through March. In recent years, it has barely snowed and temperatures were have been above the 20th century average nearly every day.

But climate change is taking a toll on Austria. The country’s average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, more than twice the global average of .85 degrees Celsius, according to a 2014 climate assessment. That warming spells big changes for mountain environments, including the bucolic pastures around the Alm. For now, the cowbells still chime, but the future is uncertain.

A sustained heatwave last summer hit Austrian agriculture especially hard, and the odds of more extreme weather are good, according to many recent climate studies. The heatwave also took a big bite out of Austria’s glaciers, where decades of rapid melting is one of the clearest signs of global warming.

Austria’s government has formally recognized the cultural, economic and ecological values of traditional mountain agriculture as part of its climate policies, and an ambitious national adaptation plan seeks to address the challenges by helping communities boost ecosystem health. Keeping forests, meadows and streams healthy is one of the best ways to protect against climate change impacts.

With support from the Earth Journalism Network and Internews, we’ll be exploring this topic for the next several weeks, following herders as they move their livestock up into the Alpine zone, on through to the end of the summer, when the cows-bedecked with flowers and bells, are driven back to the valley towns for the winter in a colorful procession.

We’ll explore some of the best practices for sustaining ecosystems and mountain communities and ask whether the farmers are getting the support that’s needed, as spelled out by the adaptation plan. And we’ll here from them what changes they’ve already experienced.

Follow our Twitter feed for frequent updates and Instagram for photos from the reporting project — and don’t be afraid to ask questions or add comments about global warming in the Austrian Alps. We’ll include those questions in our interviews with environmental experts, resource managers and government officials as we report on climate change in the Austrian Alps.

climate change austrian alps
Austrian farmers increasingly are having to adapt to big shift in seasonal weather patterns as the globe warms. @bberwyn photo.

 

 

 

Morning photo: Countryside …

Spring landscapes

The Lower Austrian landscape encompasses everything from wild beech forests and deep river canyons to manicured fields — not to mention acres and acres of vineyard, but that’s another story! Austrians are still getting used to the concept of national parks. Thayatal was founded in 2002, so some local visitors still don’t quite understand why the park managers simply leave downed trees on the ground. It’s considered a waste by some, and the park features signs explaining how it’s a deliberate effort to recreate landscapes where natural processes are left to function without much interference. In this small country, nearly every acre of land is spoken for, most of it outside towns and cities dedicated to agriculture, but slowly, resource managers are making some headway in restoring natural ecosystems in a few areas, to the benefit of native species.