Another hymn to organic farming, with its emphasis on biodiversity and the services it provides, graces the pages of The Jakarta Post. There’s a lot of familiar stuff in the piece, and a couple of real eye openers, like this:
“It’s extraordinary, but many farmers today do not realize that the vegetables they grow produce seed. That they can harvest and grow seed from their vegetable crops. They are so used to having to buy seed for growing, it’s as though that’s all they know.”
I knew this was true for many people in the “North” but I had no idea it was also true for small farmers in Indonesia. The article contains lots of sound suggestions for increasing on-farm diversity, even without going the whole hog of organic certification.
A paper in the latest GRACE looks at coloured potatoes as sources of natural colourants (anthocyanins). I suppose it is good to find other uses for these under-utilized varieties, but surely there are lots of people out there who’d really like to taste a purple potato. I know I would. And what about levels of micro-nutrients?
The London Times reports a new effort to preserve British livestock breeds. Sperm and egg banks will be created to preserve roughly 100 of Britain’s 130 or so rare breeds of cattle, sheep, horses, goats, poultry and pigs. A database will record the location of rare breeds so that in the event of a disease outbreak, like the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 in which four threatened sheep lost more than a third of their numbers each, steps can be taken to preserve rare breeds.
“The move is not only about the historic importance of keeping traditional breeds with their genetic diversity, but also because of the enormous contribution these animals make to the national economy,” says the article.
The latest Nature has a paper on mapping endangered animal species in a couple of different groups and relating what might be called “extinction threat hotspots” to “biodiversity hotspots.” The paper is getting a lot of media attention, for example here and here. Perhaps not surprisingly, the two types of hotspots do not match up, so a focus solely on protecting biodiversity in the well-known global hotspots is perhaps not going to be as effective as one might wish. No word on whether someone is doing similar work on plants, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the results were to turn out similar. But what about crops? I can think up theoretical arguments why centres of genetic diversity of crops might also be at particular risk from genetic erosion, but as for empirical data the problem is that information on genetic erosion tends to be anecdotal and patchy.
An interesting Letter to Nature entitled “Effects of biodiversity on the functioning of trophic groups and ecosystem” here. A meta-analysis of studies that have “experimentally manipulated species diversity … shows that the average effect of decreasing species richness is to decrease the abundance or biomass of the focal trophic group, leading to less complete depletion of resources used by that group … (but also that) … the standing stock of, and resource depletion by, the most species-rich polyculture tends to be no different from that of the single most productive species used in an experiment.” Are there enough data out there for a similar meta-analysis of experimental manipulations of genetic diversity in crop fields?