• Free Range Milk?

    Free-Range Dairy is a new initiative that could reverse the trend towards industrialised mega-farms. The Ecologist office is set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty within a United Nations Biosphere Reserve. Hartland peninsular is dotted with steep, wooded valleys where bluebells, early purple orchids and woodpeckers abound.The hills afford breathtaking views across the Bristol channel to Lundy Island, itself a nature reserve with a no-fish zone that is having a beneficial effect on marine ecology, and looking south-west down to Cornwall, on a clear day, one can see to Boscastle and Bodmin moor beyond. But something is missing from this bucolic scene - one notices it first whilst walking the country lanes on a warm spring evening. There is no rhythmic munching of grass on the other side of the hedge; no bovine belching or contented sighing as the cows enjoy the sun on their backs after a long winter in the cattle yard. For here in Hartland, as elsewhere in the country, the trend is towards carbon-intensive, 'industrialised' farming where huge herds of 1,000 cows or more are kept indoors all year long, with only a concrete yard for exercise. >> Read the Full Article
  • What is Causing the Big Shrimp Die-Off in Asian Shrimp Farms?

    A cause of a mysterious disease devastating shrimp farms across Asia since 2009 has been tracked back to a strain of a bacteria native to coastlines around the world. The shrimp early mortality syndrome has perplexed experts for years, in a region where roughly one million people depend on shrimp farming for survival. So far countries officially reporting the disease — also referred to as acute hepatopancreatic necrosis syndrome — include China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, but potentially it could affect shrimp farming further afield in Asia, as well as parts of Latin America and Africa. >> Read the Full Article
  • African soil diversity mapped for the first time

    A team of international experts has drawn up the Soil Atlas of Africa — the first such book mapping this key natural resource — to help farmers, land managers and policymakers understand the diversity and importance of soil and the need to manage it through sustainable use. They say that despite soil's importance, most people in Africa lack knowledge about it, partly because information about it tends to be confined to academic publications read only by scientists. >> Read the Full Article
  • Aquifers in US Depleting, Contributing to Sea-Level Rise

    The High Plains (also known as Ogallala) aquifer underlies more than 170,000 square miles of the United States. Aquifers are water storage areas that are made up of bodies of permeable rock that contain and transmit groundwater. The High Plains aquifer serves as the principal source of water for irrigation and drinking in the Great Plains, serving over two million people. However, substantial pumping of the aquifer for irrigation since the 1940s has resulted in large water-table declines. Depleting aquifers of groundwater can lead to serious consequences as pumping water out of the ground faster than it can be replenished can permanently dry up wells, reduce water in lakes and streams, and deteriorate water quality. >> Read the Full Article
  • Want to benefit wildlife? Let land go untended.

    Which environment would wildlife prefer, actively farmed and managed land, or untended natural land that to us might appear unkempt? Turns out that parts of the farm landscape that look overgrown and 'scruffy' are more important in supporting wildlife than they first appear, according to new research published today in Ecology Letters. The findings stem from an intensive study of an organic farm in Somerset by a team of scientists focussing on the complex ways in which animals and plants interact. First, the team of researchers from the University of Hull, the University of Bristol and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, created one of the world's largest terrestrial food-webs – a what-eats-what guide to the food-chain, and then developed a method of predicting what would happen to the whole food-web when habitats were lost. >> Read the Full Article
  • Drought and Desertification - Global Response

    Land degradation – more specifically drought and desertification – have become increasingly pressing problems for a growing number of countries around the world, threatening efforts to alleviate poverty, improve basic health and sanitation and address socioeconomic inequality, as well as spur agricultural and sustainable economic development. The only multilateral, international agreement linking development and environment to sustainable land management (SLM), high-level representatives from 195 nations will be gathering in Windhoek, Namibia from September 16-27 for the 11th bi-annual Conference of Parties (COP) to review implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Meeting for the first time in southern Africa, UNCCD delegates will review implementation of the convention to date and plan for the ensuing two years of programs and actions. >> Read the Full Article
  • Keeping Produce Fresh Longer

    Billions of dollars of fruits, vegetables, and flowers are thrown away each year as produce ripens too quickly and starts to rot in different markets before public buyers even buy them. Even though you might expect these products to start rotting to their death after they are first harvested, researchers explain that fruits, vegetables and flowers are still alive after they are picked. In fact, once these products are picked, they produce and release into the air ethylene gas, a crucial component for the ripening and blooming process. >> Read the Full Article
  • Industrialized fishing has forced seabirds to change what they eat

    The bleached bones of seabirds are telling us a new story about the far-reaching impacts of industrial fisheries on today's oceans. Looking at the isotopes of 250 bones from Hawaiian petrels (Pterodroma sandwichensis), scientists have been able to reconstruct the birds' diets over the last 3,000 years. They found an unmistakable shift from big prey to small prey around 100 years ago, just when large, modern fisheries started scooping up fish at never before seen rates. The dietary shift shows that modern fisheries upended predator and prey relationships even in the ocean ocean and have possibly played a role in the decline of some seabirds. >> Read the Full Article
  • Rocky Mountain Snow Packs

    Snow pack forms from layers of snow that accumulate in geographic regions and high altitudes where the climate includes cold weather for extended periods during the year. Snow packs are an important water resource that feed streams and rivers as they melt. Warmer spring temperatures since 1980 are causing an estimated 20 percent loss of snow cover across the Rocky Mountains of western North America, according to new research from the U.S. Geological Survey. The new study builds upon a previous USGS snow pack investigation which showed that, until the 1980s, the northern Rocky Mountains experienced large snow packs when the central and southern Rockies experienced meager ones, and vice versa. Yet, since the 1980s, there have been simultaneous snow pack declines along the entire length of the Rocky Mountains, and unusually severe declines in the north. >> Read the Full Article
  • Agriculture and Livestock Remain Major Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

    Global greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector totaled 4.69 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent in 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), an increase of 13 percent over 1990 emissions. By comparison, global CO2 emissions from transport totaled 6.76 billion tons that year, and emissions from electricity and heat production reached 12.48 billion tons, according to Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs Online service. >> Read the Full Article