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International conference on Biodiversity, Climate Change Assessment and Impacts on Livelihood

Nepal 1

Kathmandu, Nepal

10-12 January 2017

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A bee collecting pollen from a wildflower

Pollination by wild bees contributes an average $3,251 per hectare per year to crop production, researchers find
A bee collecting pollen from a wildflower.Researchers followed the activities of nearly 74,000 bees from more than 780 species at 90 projects around the world. Photograph: Geoffrey Swaine/Rex Shutterstock

Agence France-Presse

Tuesday 16 June 2015 23.44 EDT
Last modified on Thursday 18 June 2015 11.45 EDT

Wild bees provide crop pollination services worth more than $3,250 per hectare per year, a study reported on Tuesday.

Their value to the food system is “in the billions, globally,” its authors wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

Over three years, researchers followed the activities of nearly 74,000 bees from more than 780 species. The team looked at 90 projects to monitor bee pollination at 1,394 crop fields around the world.

They found that on average, wild bees contribute $3,251 a hectare to crop production, ahead of managed honeybee colonies, which were worth $2,913 a hectare.
Nearly one in 10 of Europe’s wild bee species face extinction, says study

The study adds to attempts to place a dollar figure on “ecosystem services” – the natural resources that feed us – to discourage environmental plundering.

Amazingly, 2% of wild bee species – the most common types – fertilise about 80% of bee-pollinated crops worldwide, the team found.

The rest, while crucial for the ecosystem, are less so for agriculture – so conservationists may undermine their own argument by promoting a purely economic argument for the protection of bee biodiversity, the authors said.

“Rare and threatened species may play a less significant role economically than common species but this does not mean their protection is less important,” said David Kleijn, a professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who led the study.

A healthy diversity of bee species was essential, given major fluctuations in populations, he added.

Honeybees in many parts of the world are suffering a catastrophic decline, variously blamed on pesticides, mites, viruses or fungus. Last month US watchdogs reported that US beekeepers had lost 42% of their colonies from the previous year, a level deemed too high to be sustainable.

“This study shows us that wild bees provide enormous economic benefits but reaffirms that the justification for protecting species cannot always be economic,” said a co-author, Taylor Ricketts of the University of Vermont.

“We still have to agree that protecting biodiversity is the right thing to do.”

According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, about 80% of flowering plant species are pollinated by insects, as well as by birds and bats.

At least a third of the world’s agricultural crops depend on these unpaid workers, the UN agency says on its website. Crops that require pollination include coffee, cocoa and many fruit and vegetable types.

The economic value of pollination was estimated in a 2005 study at €153bn, accounting for 9.5% of farm production for human food.

Commentators not involved in the study said it may play an invaluable part in the campaign to save bees.

“Crucially, the commonest wild bees are the most important, which gives us the ‘win-win’ situation where relatively cheap and easy conservation measures can support these and give maximum benefit for the crops,” said Pat Willmer, a professor of biology at Scotland’s University of St Andrews.

“For example, planting wildflowers with wider grassy margins around crops, as well as less intensive or more organic farming, all enhance abundance of the key crop-visiting bees,” she told Britain’s Science Media Centre.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/17/bees-are-worth-billions-to-farmers-across-the-globe-study-suggests

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redOrbit

October 5, 2012

http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1112707607/predator-prey-relationship-in-insects-and-plants-drives-evolution-100512/

Primrose

Image Caption: A large natural population of evening primrose (yellow), which is a common plant in eastern North America. Agrawal’s team set up 16 identical plots. During each growing season for five years, eight of the plots were treated biweekly with an insecticide; the other eight were controls. Credit: Anurag Agrawal
 Economists know that the consumer’s taste drives variety and innovation in almost every field of industry. It is the same in the natural world. An international team of researchers has determined that just as consumers’ diverse food preferences give rise to varied menu offerings, the preferences of plant-eating insects’ play a role in maintaining and shaping the genetic variation of their host plants in a geographic area.

The new study, which will appear in the journal Science, involves aphids and the small research plant Arabidopsis thaliana, commonly known as wall cress. The findings provide the first measurable evidence that the process of natural selection and genetic diversity is driven by the predator-prey relationship between insects and plants. The pressures that natural enemies exert on plants forces them to create diverse natural defenses in order to avoid being eaten. The study also found that plants were quick to abandon those defense mechanisms when pests disappeared, confirming the high costs of these defenses.

“Our data demonstrate that there is a link between the abundance of two types of aphids and the continental distribution of Arabidopsis plants that are genetically different in terms of the biochemicals they produce to defend against insect feeding,” said UC Davis botanist Dan Kliebenstein.

Kliebenstein and his colleagues are examining the naturally occurring chemicals that the plant uses to ward off potential predators. They hope to better understand the role of these biochemicals in the environment and to explore their potential for improving human nutrition and fighting cancer.

GENETIC VARIATION: THE KEY TO SURVIVAL

Genetic change and variation are crucial to allowing a plant and animal species to survive changing environmental conditions such as new diseases or pests.

The team has documented that nonbiological changes, such as soil and climate variation, can exert pressures that cause genetic changes within a plant species. Prior to this study, there was little direct evidence that biological forces like feeding insects or species competition could lead to genetic variation within a single species across a large geographic area.

The scientists mapped the distribution of six different chemical profiles within Arabidopsis thaliana plants across Europe. Each chemical profile is controlled by variations in three genes. When they mapped out the geographic distribution of these genes in Arabidopsis plants, they noticed a change in the function of one of the key genes across different geographic regions. The gene that they identified changed in plants as they were tracked from southwest to northwest.

The theory that the researchers created to explain this is that two aphid species — Brevicoryne brassicae and Lipaphis erysimi (cabbage and mustard aphids, respectively) — are most likely the cause of the geographic variation. Both aphid species are abundant in the regions and they feed heavily on Arabidopsis and other related plants.

The team examined data on fluctuations in aphid populations in Europe that was collected for nearly 50 years by British researchers. What they found was that the distribution of the two aphid species closely mirrored the geographic distribution of the different variations of Arabidosis plants. One aphid preferred the northeastern chemical type, while the other preferred the southwestern chemical type.

“There is natural variation in chemical defenses which is under genetic control,” explained ecologist Tobias Züst from the University of Zurich. “And this variation is maintained by geographic variation in the composition of aphid communities.”

“Genetic variation is the raw material for evolution, so the maintenance of genetic diversity is essential if populations are to respond to future environmental changes such as climate change or environmental degradation”.

Next, the team attempted to determine whether the similarity between the distribution patterns of the plants and the two aphid species was more than a coincidence. To do this, they set up an experiment that allowed them to observe what would happen when the different aphid types fed on five generations of experimentally raised Arabidopsis thaliana plants.

The team confirmed that the plants were genetically adapting to the aphids. Each successive plant generation showed less damage from the insects’ feeding. The genetic changes that each generation of plant underwent were specific to the type of aphid that was feeding on them. Moreover, the laboratory plants evolved in a way that mirrored the geographic distribution of the two aphids and the types of defense chemicals used by Thaliana plants in the wild.

The team found growth speed made a difference as well. The faster-growing Arabidosis plant types fared better, while the slowest-growing plant types actually went extinct in the experiment.

“These data make it clear that even functionally similar plant-eating pests can affect the biochemical and genetic makeup of plant populations, playing a major role in shaping and refining the plant defenses in a natural community,” Kliebenstein said.

In control populations with no aphid feeding, successful genotypes from aphid populations were lost. This occurred because defense mechanisms are costly to the plant species.

“Genetic diversity was only maintained across the different treatments; within each treatment much of the diversity was lost. In the control populations, this meant the loss of defended genotypes, as here investment in costly defenses brings no benefit to the plant,” explained fellow researcher Lindsey Turnbull of the University of Zurich.

Commerical research in this field could eventually lead to the development of custom seeds that are resistant to specific local pest communities, thus limiting the need for pesticides.

EVOLUTION IN A HURRY

A similar study also published in Science was conducted by the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) in collaboration with Cornell University, University of Montana and University of Turku in Finland. Researchers in this study found that the effect of insects on plant evolution can happen more quickly than was previously assumed, sometimes even over a single generation.

“Scientists have long hypothesized that the interaction between plants and insects has led to much of the diversity we see among plants, including crops, but until now we had limited direct experimental evidence,” says Marc Johnson, Assistant Professor in the UTM Department of Biology.

“This research fills a fundamental gap in our understanding of how natural selection by insects causes evolutionary changes in plants as they adapt, and demonstrates how rapidly these changes can happen in nature.”

The team planted evening primrose, a typically self-fertilizing plant that produces genetically identical offspring. The primroses were planted in two different plots, each containing 60 plants of 18 different genotypes.

One plot was kept free of predatory insects using the regular biweekly application of insecticide throughout the entire study period, while the other plot was left free to natural levels of insects. The plots had no other interference for five years. Each year of the study, the team counted the number and types of plants colonizing the plots and analyzed the changing frequencies of the different evening primrose genotypes and the traits associated with those genotypes.

Anurag Agrawal, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, explained: “We demonstrated that when you take moths out of the environment, certain varieties of evening primrose were particularly successful. These successful varieties have genes that produce less defenses against moths.”

The study states that evolution, expressed as a change in genotype frequency over time, was observed in all plots after only a single generation. In response to insect attack or lack thereof, plant populations began to diverge significantly in as few as three to four generations. In the untreated plots, there were increases in the frequencies of genotypes associated with higher levels of toxic chemicals in the fruits, making them unpalatable to seed predator moths. Plants that flowered later in the year also increased in number since they were able to avoid most insect predators.

The findings show that evolution might be an important mechanism for changing whole ecosystems and that these changes can occur quite rapidly.

“As these plant populations evolve, their traits change and influence their interactions with insects and other plant species, which in turn may evolve adaptations to cope with those changes,” says Johnson. “The abundance and competitiveness of the plant populations is changing. Evolution can change the ecology and the function of organisms and entire ecosystems.”

THE RIPPLE EFFECT

The researchers also observed ecological changes that involved other plant and animal species in the plots when insects were removed. Competitor plants like dandelions colonized both sets of plots; however, they were more abundant in the plot without insects, reducing the number of evening primroses in that plot. According to the study, these changes were the result of the suppression of a moth caterpillar that prefers to feed on dandelions.

“What this research shows is that changes in these plant populations were not the result of genetic drift, but directly due to natural selection by insects on plants,” says Johnson. “It also demonstrates how rapidly evolutionary change can occur — not over millennia, but over years, and all around us.”

“This experimental demonstration of how rapid evolution can shape ecological interactions supports the idea that we need to understand feedbacks between evolutionary and ecological processes in order to be able to predict how communities and ecosystems will respond to change,” said Alan Tessier, a program director in the National Science Foundation´s (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences.

“One of the things farmers are trying to do is breed agricultural crops to be more resistant to pests,” said Agrawal. “Our study indicates that various genetic tradeoffs may make it difficult or impossible to maintain certain desired traits in plants that are bred for pest resistance.”

Primrose oil, for example, has been used medicinally for hundreds of years and the plant is beginning to gain popularity as an herbal remedy.  This research could be useful to the herbal and pharmaceutical industries.

Most previous real-time experiments on evolution have been conducted with bacteria in test tubes, not in nature as this study was. The team intends to keep the experiment running as a long-term living laboratory.

Copyright 2012 redOrbit.com

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Published in the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal and Star, Dec. 31,2014

 

Monarch 1 2015208

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The  New York Times

Nov. 18 2014

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/19/opinion/a-sustainable-solution-for-the-corn-belt.html?_r=0

By  Mark Bittman

 

It’s hard to imagine maintaining the current food system without Iowa. Yet that state — symbolic of both the unparalleled richness of our continent’s agricultural potential and the mess we’ve made of it — has undergone a transformation almost as profound as the land on which cities have been built. A state that was once 85 percent prairie is now 85 percent cultivated, most of that in row crops of corn and soybeans. And that isn’t sustainable, no matter how you define that divisive word.

It’s easy enough to argue that one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world could be better used than to cover it with just two crops — the two crops that contribute most to the sad state of our dietary affairs, and that are used primarily for animal food, junk food and thermodynamically questionable biofuels. Anything that further entrenches that system — propped up by generous public support — should be questioned. On the other hand, if there are ways to make that core of industrial agriculture less destructive of land and water, that is at least moving in the right direction.

For now, many Midwestern farmers believe they are maximizing income by growing row crops in what is best called industrial fashion. (Many prefer the word “conventional,” but as common as it is we do not want chemical farming to be the convention.) This near monoculture, for the most part, fails to replenish soil, poisons water, increases flooding and erosion, spills carbon, robs indigenous species of habitat and uses fossil fuel resources at unnecessarily high rates. Despite this, for the last several years the economic pressure has been on farmers to plant more and more, even in marginally productive areas, land that requires more work and greater applications of chemicals for fewer benefits.

Incredibly, there is a scientifically informed, direct and effective planting tactic that can mitigate much of this. Called STRIPS, for (ready?) “science-based trials of row crops integrated with prairie strips,” it means just that: Take around 10 percent of your farmland (in most cases, the least productive part), and replant it with a mix of indigenous prairie plants. Then sit back and watch the results, which are, according to researchers and even some farmers, spectacular.

Lisa Schulte Moore, a researcher at Iowa State University, has been working on the principles behind STRIPS for more than 10 years. (In 2003, she worked with Matt Liebman and Matt Helmers, two other pioneers in making contemporary American agriculture more sensible; I wrote about Liebman’s work a couple of years ago.) “It’s well-known that perennials provide a broader sweep of ecological function than annuals,” she told me last week, “so our hypothesis was that if you put a little bit of perennials — a little bit of prairie — in the right place, you get these disproportionate benefits. That is, without taking much land out of production, you get a lot of environmental benefit.”

The research has produced impressive numbers: If you convert 10 percent of a field of row crops to prairie, soil loss can be reduced by up to 95 percent, nutrient loss by 80 to 90 percent, and water runoff by 44 percent. Biodiversity nearly quadruples, and some of those species are pollinators, predators of pests, or both. And, unlike some ecological management techniques, the process is not expensive.

In general, reports Moore, seven years into this process, “Though science is messy, it’s amazing how clear our results are.”

By the end of the year, there will be 17 commercial farms integrating prairie strips in Iowa and Missouri — a mere 1,000 acres or so (the corn/soy belt is about 170 million acres this year), although the program is increasing rapidly. And because it’s difficult to find fault with it, the approach has the potential to unite farmers and environmentalists in a way that few other things do.

Among the first adopters was Seth Watkins, a “conventional” (his description) farmer of corn and soybeans who uses his crops to feed his cattle near the southwestern Iowa town of Clarinda. His explanation of the system is eye-opening: “There’s a lot of land we’ve been farming that was never intended to be farmed, and those areas of poor production are perfect for prairie strips. You do that, and it doesn’t reduce overall production, and it increases environmental benefit.” (He also loves the way it looks.) Watkins claims that his profit has gone up “because there’s land where you can lose a dollar an acre on corn.”

In recent years, many Iowa farmers have believed that if they weren’t 100 percent “in” corn, they weren’t doing a good job. Because of the pressure to plant, many of them have expanded their cultivated areas beyond where it makes sense, creating erosion and runoff problems. Iowa is among the major contributors to the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone,” a direct result of fertilizer runoff into the Mississippi water system, and half of Iowa’s topsoil has been lost.

Some common solutions to these problems — like terracing, or simply patching areas where runoff is extreme — are expensive and/or temporary. But the STRIPS experiment seems to demonstrate that being 90 percent “in” results in unheard of environmental benefits with little or no sacrifice to the bottom line. And, says Watkins, “I’ve felt for years that environmentalists and farmers should be friends, and we are starting to see that in Iowa.”

Prairie strips are both cheap and permanent, and they come with little opportunity cost. There does not seem to be an argument against them, other than that they make an imperfect — or even destructive — system less so. But while we’re figuring out a better way to do things on a big scale in the Midwest, this is a sensible interim step.

 

 

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sci dev logoAEV00002UKImage credit: Adrian Evans /

 

 

 

 

 

Speed read
-The draft SDGs ignore biodiversity’s effect on food, health and poverty

-A holistic approach is critical, UN meeting hears

-Participants pledge to double biodiversity-related funding for poorer nations

Biodiversity is moving up the global development agenda, following a major meeting of policymakers at the 12th Conference of Parties (COP12) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

With countries working on setting the next targets after the Millennium Development Goals, biodiversity is already included as one of the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UN draft working document agreed in July.

However, the current draft does not acknowledge biodiversity’s effects on global issues such as health, poverty and food security.

These effects took centre stage at the event in Pyeongchang, which was attended by around 3,000 delegates from 6-17 October.

“If we tackle poverty, inequality and environmental issues in separate silos, we can’t succeed. We have to have holistic approaches,” said UN Development Programme boss Helen Clark.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the CBD, told environment ministers and other delegates that its 2010 biodiversity plan was critical. “We will not be able to achieve sustainable development if we do not implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity,” he said.

The plan estimated that US$150-440 billion a year was needed in biodiversity-related financial flows to reverse species and habitat loss, compared with the US$50 billion a year in 2010 being spent worldwide.

At the beginning of the COP12 event, the UN released a report showing progress was lagging on biodiversity goals known as Aichi targets set out in the CBD’s 2010 biodiversity plan.

For example, the key target of halving the rate of biodiversity loss, backed by a US$2.2 billion fund created at the 2010 COP meeting in Nagoya, Japan, is nowhere near being reached, according to projections in the Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO4) report.

Habitat loss

At a separate high-level meeting that took place on 16 and 17 October, ministers of the environment signed the so-called Gangwon declaration, pledging to double biodiversity-related funding for developing countries and maintain this level until 2020 to reach the Aichi biodiversity conservation targets.

Despite opposition from some larger developing countries, including India and Brazil, which cited budget constraints and the need to hold richer countries to their funding commitments, the meeting agreed that signatories should “mobilise domestic resources”. This breakthrough clause, unusual in UN documents, will mean that national budgets should give more priority to biodiversity issues.

Other areas falling well short included stemming species loss, habitat destruction, overfishing and pollution. And it seems that such declines as well as pressures on habitats are only growing, said Derek Tittensor, senior marine biodiversity scientist at the UN Environment Programme. “We’re making some effort, but, at the moment, we’re not seeing the benefits,” he told SciDev.Net.

“There has been an increase in resources and that is projected to continue into the future — that’s partly what has come out of the COP12 meeting in Korea — but the big question is whether that will be sufficient to arrest the decline in the state of biodiversity that we observed and projected,” he added.

Others, however, were more optimistic. GBO4 “is just a starting point”, said Anne-Hélène Prieur-Richard, acting executive director of international biodiversity research programme DIVERSITAS. “Some of the targets are very far from being able to be achieved by 2020. However, we also know there are lags between the time of starting actions on the ground and the time you get the fruits of them,” she told SciDev.Net.

‘Pyeongchang road map’

“It is my strong belief that these decisions will enable us to turn many of the indicators in GBO4 from yellow to green.”

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, CBD In total, the meeting adopted 33 decisions referred to collectively as the ‘Pyeongchang road map’.

Among the decisions was an agreement to establish a technical expert group to examine how synthetic biology products should be regulated. COP12 agreed that risk assessment and regulations must tally with the ‘no-harm principle’ that activities avoid damaging the environment of other states or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

But the highlight of the meeting, according to delegates, was the entering into force of a treaty signed four years ago that opens up access to genetic resources and a mandatory fair sharing of the benefits derived from them.

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits arising from their utilisation to the CBD came into force on 12 October after the 50th ratification.
– See more at: http://www.scidev.net/global/biodiversity/news/biodiversity-deeper-role-sdgs.html#sthash.P1rHT8Ki.dpuf

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[MUTARE, ZIMBABWE] Contrary to the concern that genetically modified (GM) maize may have adverse impacts on biodiversity, a new study in South Africa indicates that it has no negative effects on the environment.

GM maize has been engineered to produce a toxin that kills specific target pests when they feed on the leaves of the plant. Farmers do not need to apply insecticides against stalk borer pests of maize because the plant is able to protect itself.

But whether GM maize could adversely affect non-target arthropods — insects and related species — has largely not been explored in Africa, according to the researchers from South Africa.

“The fact that biodiversity is high means that there is no danger associated with growing the GM maize. High biodiversity means it is good.”

Johnnie van den Berg, North-West University, South Africa

The researchers randomly selected a total of 480 maize plants — 240 GM maize and 240 non-GM maize from two different locations: smallholder and commercial farming systems in South Africa. They collected a total of 8,771 arthropods at two different growing seasons in both farms during the two-year study that began in 2008 and compared the biodiversity of arthropods at the two locations.

The study, published in the February issue of Environmental Entomology, showed that the biodiversity of arthropods in both subsistence and large-scale farming systems was high without significant differences.

Johnnie van den Berg, the study’s co-author and professor of North-West University, South Africa, tells SciDev.Net that GM maize did not affect the abundance and diversity of arthropods.

The abundance of diverse insects in GM crop fields will not endanger maize growing in both GM and conventional maize fields, van den Berg explains.

“The fact that biodiversity is high means that there is no danger associated with growing the GM maize. High biodiversity means it is good,” he says. “This type of study and its results are important for regulators of GM technology, and together with many other factors, they use it when they make decisions on whether to release GM crops in a particular country.”

He adds that their findings provide useful information that could help African governments decide on adopting the technology, citing Egypt and South Africa as the only African countries currently growing GM maize.

But van den Berg warns that although the short-term study showed no adverse effects on the environment, GM maize may cross-pollinate with other maize varieties planted by neighbouring farmers, leading to resistance development of target pests which have not been considered carefully in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Godfrey Mamhare, a Zimbabwe-based senior agronomist and provincial extension officer at Manicaland regional agricultural extension services, says the study’s findings are complicated and do not adequately persuade African farmers to grow GM maize.

“Africa is calling for indigenous solutions to produce cereals for human consumption. Indigenous knowledge systems are crucial to increasing maize production in Sub-Saharan Africa rather than artificial breeding,” he adds.

Link to study abstract in Environmental Entomology

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa desk

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