Category: agriculture

To save monarchs, plant milkweed — lots of it!

New USGS study quantifies conservation needs

A monarch butterfly in Florida. @bberwyn photo.
A group of monarch butterflies covers an oyamel fir tree at an overwintering site in the Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico. (Steve Hilburger, USGS)

Staff Report

Saving monarch butterflies means planting a lot of their favorite food, say U.S. Geological Survey scientists, who outlined conservation measures in a new study.

After over-wintering in Mexico, monarchs rely on milkweed plants for food and breeding habitat. But milkweed has been wiped out across millions of acres. The new study measures the need in terms of stems of milkweed.

In the northern U.S. at least 860 million stems were lost during the last decade. After studying the density of Eastern migratory monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico from 1979-2002 and the amount of milkweed plants available to them in North America. The study found that 3.62 billion milkweed stems are needed to reestablish this monarch population, but only 1.34 billion stems remain in the U.S.

“Monarchs in eastern North America are a beloved insect, but they’re in jeopardy, partly due to the loss of milkweeds in cropland,” said Wayne Thogmartin, a USGS scientist and the lead author of the report. “Our study is important because it helps specify the conservation needs of this charismatic species.” Continue reading “To save monarchs, plant milkweed — lots of it!”

Advertisements

Trump wants to make America fat again

Salt and fat are back in, whole grains are out.

Ag secretary says no grits with bits

By Bob Berwyn

A five-year effort trying to help America’s schoolchildren eat healthier meals will come to an abrupt end, as the Trump administration seeks to make America fat again by rolling back parts of healthy school lunch programs championed by Michelle Obama under the guise of local control.

The previous standards were adopted as part of the Obama administration’s campaign against childhood obesity. It was  supported by public-health and environmental organizations.

Nominally, the announcement by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue gives schools more flexibility in addressing guidelines on whole grains, salt and flavored milk-based drinks, but what most of the mainstream media missed in its coverage of the story is that it’s really about favoring the large corporations that provide food service operations at school cafeterias. Continue reading “Trump wants to make America fat again”

Sunday set: Austria’s mountain farms

Alm journeys


This past summer, we spent several weeks exploring the world of Austrian Alms, high mountain pastures that are only grazed for a few months each summer. While we in the U.S. generally tend to prefer undisturbed mountain landscapes for their aesthetic and environmental values, these Austrian pastures have been grazed for centuries and even millennia. In the earliest days, as humans colonized the Alps after the last ice age, they had to use the higher slopes as forage areas because the valleys were still choked with glacial debris, wetlands and thick vegetation. That means the open meadows higher up were actually available for animal husbandry earlier than the lower elevations. In any case, the Alms now form an important part of the Alps’ ecological fabric, providing habitat for many wildflowers, including rare orchids, that wouldn’t thrive in a dark forest environment. Alms are also important to culture and recreation, as gathering points for hikers, and help ensure local food supplies. The first three in a series of grant-funded stories on this topic have been published at Pacific Standard, links below. Help support independent environmental journalism by visiting the stories and sharing them on your social media networks.

 

Sunday set: Environmental journeys

Seeking knowledge …


I’ve been reporting on the environment for 21 years, so it’s not surprising that, even when I’m traveling on vacation, I tend to see nearly everything through a certain prism. That may be a blessing and a curse at the same time. It might be nice, every now and then, to completely tune out from the world’s problems and just live hedonistically. On the other hand, I feel like I can really connect with the people and places I’m seeing by understanding them in an environmental context. And in reality, I don’t really separate work and play all that much anymore. This past summer’s trek through the Austrian Alps to learn about climate change and sustainable mountain agriculture was a wonderful experience. Being a journalist gives me an excuse to exercise my curiosity. You can read about the environment and culture of the Austrian Alms here, and learn more about melting Arctic ice may affect you in this story

Study IDs new parasite threat to honeybees

Detection could enable early intervention

asef
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”