Showing results for: Agricultural biodiversity
The common weed killer glyphosate targets an enzyme only found in plants and microorganisms. However, a new paper finds that glyphosate can harm honey bees even though they lack the targeted enzyme. Glyphosate does this by changing the balance of microorganisms (some of which contain the relevant enzyme) found in the bees’ guts, making the bees more susceptible to infections.
Birds catch insects less frequently in silvopastures (grazing land with substantial tree cover) than in forest fragments, according to a study in the Colombian Andes. This suggests that silvopasture provides relatively lower quality habitat for the bird species studied. However, the paper proposes some measures to improve the quality of silvopastures as habitats for birds, including encouraging certain tree species and forming particular microhabitats, such as vine tangles and hanging dead leaves.
When given a choice between food with or without an added neonicotinoid pesticide (thought to be harmful to bees), bees initially show no preference for the pesticide, but over time choose to feed on the pesticide-laced food. This means that pesticide-treated crops may become disproportionately attractive to bees, increasing the bees’ exposure to harmful compounds. The study did not identify the mechanism by which bees develop a preference for the pesticide.
Lasers might replace poison or shotguns to stop birds from eating fruit crops, according to some farmers who have used automated laser systems to successfully defend their crops. The systems are also quieter than propane cannons and more reliable than trained falcons. However, it isn’t clear whether the lasers can harm birds’ eyes.
Writing in the Guardian, Isabella Tree of Knepp Castle Estate argues that vegan diets ignore the potential of wildlife-friendly livestock grazing methods. Tree claims that not using anti-worming agents or antibiotics allows cow dung to feed various soil organisms, contributing to soil restoration and wildlife diversity.
A new paper reviews the extent to which sustainable intensification has been achieved in England. It concludes that agricultural intensification drove environmental degradation during the 1980s. In the 1990s, however, yields became decoupled from fertiliser and pesticide use, meaning that some ecosystems services began to recover. The authors interpret their results as meaning that sustainable intensification has begun. Farmland biodiversity, however, has not recovered.
The EU-funded CAPSELLA project, which develops digital tools for agrobiodiversity, has released an online tool to guide users through the steps of taking a “spade test” to monitor soil quality. Users can also choose to upload their results to a public database.
The Trump administration has reversed a ban on using neonicotinoid pesticides (linked to declining bee populations) and genetically modified crops in over 50 national wildlife refuges (out of 560 total). Limited farming activity is permitted in some of the wildlife refuges. Previously, a blanket ban had prohibited the use of neonicotinoids and genetically modified crops in the wildlife refuges, but now decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Rob Bailey and Bernice Lee of UK think tank Chatham House have written a piece exploring food system trends, including rising food demand, plateauing yields in key crop production regions, global convergence on a diet dependent on calorie-dense but nutrient-poor crops and a lack of genetic diversity in staple crops. The authors conclude that current food system trends are unsustainable, saying, “The continued intensification and expansion of agriculture is a short-term coping strategy that will eventually lead to food-system collapse.” They call for interventions at key leverage points in the food system.
FCRN member Sylvie Bonny of the INRA (National Institute for Agricultural Research), France, has written a paper on corporate consolidation and technological change in the global seed industry. The paper examines the views that different types of stakeholders have about current trends towards concentration, including concerns about the consequences on seed prices and diversity.
This book, edited by Alessandro Isoni, Michele Troisi and Maurizia Pierri, uses the concept of “food diversity” - diversity in many different factors in the food system, including crops and culture - as an overarching theme to gather work on many aspects of food, including genetic modification, promotion of local foods, food security, ethical purchasing and legal regulation.
FCRN member Seth Cook of the International Institute for Environment and Development has written a discussion paper on the importance of agricultural biodiversity. The report notes that crop diversity is declining: today, just 30 crops supply 95% of food calories, with maize, rice, wheat and potatoes providing over 60%. For comparison, humans have domesticated or collected around 7000 species of food plants.
Over two billion people in developing countries are smallholder farmers and often depend on pollinators, according to this report by the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences. The report finds that insufficient pollination has already been found across many crops in the developing world, which could negatively affect cash crops (such as coffee and cocoa) and intake of nutritious foods such as fruit and nuts. The report points to a lack of data on pollinators in developing countries, and calls for further research, education programmes and sustainable development projects incorporating bee-keeping.
Intensifying agricultural production can make farmland less valuable for wildlife, says a new paper, but optimising land use (by intensifying agriculture in areas where it will cause the least biodiversity loss) can reduce the projected biodiversity loss by up to 88%. The winners and losers of this strategy depend on whether land use is optimised globally or nationally.
Land degradation caused by human activities is driving the world towards a sixth mass species extinction, makes climate change worse, has negative impacts on at least 3.2 billion people and costs the world the equivalent of 10% of annual GDP through lost biodiversity and ecosystems services, according to a report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
A perspective piece and an editorial have featured in the same edition of Biological Conservation (March 2018): both tackle a recent debate among conservation biologists as to whether at a local level biodiversity or species richness is changing and in what direction.