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If you are an omnivore with a conscience, you might have been feeling a little guilty of late. A couple of big data papers were released recently showing that beef production produced more emissions and used more resources than other livestock production systems. The study that received the most coverage looked at land, water and nitrogen impacts of cattle production. The authors note in the article (and clearly state in the title) that the data and results are only relevant to the US livestock industry. They only considered land, irrigation water and nitrogen fertilisers used for feed production (e.g. corn, soybean, grain etc.), mostly in the US Midwest and they do not include pastured beef in analyses. So with these results, we can only talk about industrially-farmed beef, dairy, pork and poultry in the United States (i.e. feedlots and factory farms), but few media reports acknowledged this.

Industrial livestock production is bad for livestock, farmers, the environment and the people that eat the produce – to a lot of people, that won’t be news. So it is great that studies like these can show how much industrial livestock also affects the bottom line and national accounts, as these are the things that might effect change where it needs to happen.

In an ideal world, there would be no supermarket shelves stocked with faceless beef. So here are a few positive facts to make that ideal seem possible. Continue Reading »

Stone walls are central to the rich cultural heritage of human history. Some of the oldest stone walls in the world still stand in ancient Mediterranean lands, and also provide the foundations for Incan architecture (think Macchu Picchu) and the castles and ramparts of feudal Japan. In the UK, Ireland and Europe, stone walls are key elements of pastoral landscapes from a thousand postcards, and numerous regional specialities maintain their own unique cultural and ecological foundations. This colonial heritage is also preserved in the new world, particularly North America’s New England region and Australia’s southern states.

Stone walling is more than simply stacking rocks. A harmonious balance of art and science are needed to keep the wall standing. Each stone is fitted into the negative space around its neighbouring stones, like a jigsaw, so that the final wall holds itself against the pull of gravity. Continue Reading »

I recently visited the town of Bendigo for the first time, a beautiful heritage town in central Victoria, Australia. It was one of the first places gold was discovered in the state, sometime in the 1850s, and much of the town’s original business and residential districts still stand, in all their gold rush glory.

Bendigo CBD from Rosalind Park

Bendigo CBD from the poppet tower lookout in Rosalind Park

Continue Reading »

The concept of the ‘edge effect’ has inspired long and varied discussion in the ecological literature. In essence, an edge effect is a change in animal or plant communities seen at a boundary between two types of habitat.

These changes are most obvious in plant communities, for example where a swamp segues into a savannah. So, historically, research into edge effects and ecotones (the zone surrounding the edge where two plant communities meet, and energy fluxes and dynamics change) was mostly focused on plants.

It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that people started considering how edges affected animals. Vegetation ecologists had already discovered that the zone surrounding habitat edges usually had more plant species than either of the two patches that met at the edge.

Then in 1930 Aldo Leopold noticed that game animals, like deer, were often found more frequently at forest edges than in the interior. These animals loitered at edges, where they could feed on all the extra plants and see danger coming more easily. And so the misconception arose that edges = more animals. Continue Reading »

Early last year I wrote a post on ecology and mathematics that was inspired by an online discussion happening at the time. Although comprehensive advanced maths skills are not essential to being an influential or inspiring ecologist, a good level of mathematical knowledge and understanding of statistical analysis is definitely necessary to create honest science and communicate the importance of your work to others.

But it’s not just ecologists who need mathematical common sense. Anyone who deals with, or is interested in science needs to understand the ambiguity of an average, or the difference between a regression and a correlation. In fact, anyone who cares about the society they live in should be aware how deeply statistics and data now influence the way we live – policies and decisions on anything from what product choices you find in retail stores to how much tax you pay are all based on data.

Why does this matter to us? Well, if those data are a bit dodgy, or haven’t been analysed and presented appropriately, problems arise. And when these kinds of data misrepresentations are used to fuel public opinion or inform government policy, there can be serious impacts on communities, individuals and ecosystems. Continue Reading »

Plastic Bees

There has been a flurry of excitement in the media over a recently-published observational study describing the “behavioural flexibility and adaptation” of solitary bees to our “plastic-rich environments”. In a nutshell, during the course of a larger field study looking at wild bees in urban landscapes, researchers in Toronto discovered that some urban Megachile bee species in the city had lined their nest cells with plastic materials. Continue Reading »

The British Ecological Society has just published a ‘virtual’ journal issue on pollinator ecology, with all articles free to download for any reader, regardless of whether you have subscription access to the society. The articles are drawn from all five of the BES journals and cover all sorts of topical issues to do with honey bee health and biology, pesticide impacts and how management processes impact pollinators in agricultural landscapes.

And if this virtual issue isn’t enough for you, the Journal of Pollination Ecology is another permanently ‘open access’ peer-reviewed journal that publishes articles covering lots of different aspects of the wonderful world of pollination.

So click on the links to read the latest research on what modern life as a pollinator involves!

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