Longhorns registered

A surprisingly detailed – for this kind of thing – article in the News-Journal describes efforts to preserve the breed of cattle known as the Texas Longhorn. This apparently developed from cattle introduced from Spain to what is now Mexico around 1500. It was the mainstay of the Texan cattle industry until railroads replaced the traditional cattle drive (much seen in John Wayne movies) at the end of the 19th century. Their long horns meant you could fit fewer of them into the cattle-trucks. It has since been much altered by cross-breeding, and, predictably, this loss of “purity” has upset some people, while no doubt leaving others to mutter “So what?”, probably under their breath. Anyway, there’s a registry, and a DNA database is underway. Lots more interesting detail in the article.

Putting a forest together again

How would you rebuild a forest? There’s an enormous effort underway to do just that for the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil, now down to only 7% of its original extent. This really short but intriguing SciDevNet piece led me to a fascinating Science article here. About 15,000 trees of 800 different species have been identified as mother trees, “the starting stock for the forest’s regeneration.” There’s a big awareness campaign aimed at local farmers explaining the long-term benefits of devoting some of their land to forest. And lots of different approaches to the actual reforestation are being tried. Sounds like this project is going to be a testing ground and model for years to come. How is it that there’s been so little news about it? Or do I just move in the wrong circles? Perhaps I just subscribe to the wrong RSS feeds.

Hmong farming in Fresno

I’m fascinated by stories about farmers who insist on continuing to grow their traditional crops in unfamiliar or unusual surroundings. They speak to the strength of traditional food cultures, quite apart from representing interesting case studies in on-farm conservation. So I was sad to read this piece about the problems being encountered by Hmong farmers from Vietnam as a result of a recent cold spell in California. I’m sure they’ll cope in the short term, but it doesn’t look like this weird cultural outlier will last beyond the lifetime of the present farmers. All their children seem to be on scholarships to fancy universities. Although, perhaps some of them will study plant genetic resources conservation…

To cork or not to cork

Well, I’m officially in a quandary. On the one hand, with the risk of TCA-induced (that’s 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, a by-product of microbial activity) taint so high, there’s no reason except snobbishness for jettisoning natural cork for screw-tops and other ways of stopping wine bottles. On the other hand, as this article points out, producers are addressing quality concerns and cork is biodegradable, recyclable, and sustainably harvested from woodlands whose management over centuries has led to high levels of biodiversity. Pass the bottle.

Pirates of Lake Victoria

I mentioned a few days ago that the water hyacinth is making a comeback on Lake Victoria, after being almost eradicated by biological control. That’s sparked a small-scale furniture-making industry, but is obviously bad news for fishermen, who are forced to venture further out into the lake to get good catches. That’s far more than just a nuisance, according to an article in The Nation today. The further you go out from shore, it seems, the greater the danger of falling foul of pirates! The veritable heart of darkness that is the nile perch fishery on Lake Victoria is the subject of a very well-reviewed documentary, “Darwin’s Nightmare,” which I hope to see soon. Have you?