Map it or lose it?

Funny how stories which originate from opposite ends of the world but that are closely related sometimes appear — through sheer coincidence — on the same day. Here’s a case in point. Exhibit number one: an article on how Ndorobo tribesmen “over-ran a protected forest reserve in eastern Uganda last April and hacked down thousands of trees (which had been) planted by a Netherlands-based firm” called FACE (Forests Absorbing Carbon dioxide Emissions) as part of a carbon credits scheme. There’s no doubt the people were forced from their ancestral lands back in the 90s, but FACE says that these communities retained rights over some forest resources. Big of them. The article doesn’t say what kinds of trees were planted, nor what other resources the displaced people retained rights to, apart from firewood. Now here’s exhibit two: indigenous communities in Amazonia are using GPS and Google Earth to map their ancestral lands and the resources they manage within them. You have to wonder whether this technology would have helped the Ndorobo.

Wet Wet Wet

The GlobWetland project uses remote sensing and GIS to address the threats faced by the world’s wetlands. Do we know how many crop wild relatives are found in wetlands? Or even how threats to wetlands affect genetic diversity in adjacent agricultural areas? I think plant genetic resources people and the ecosystem conservation crowd need to link up a bit more, and I can’t help thinking that wetlands might be pretty good meeting ground.

Water, water everywhere

Emelie Healy of FAO’s Land and Water Development Division has a mailing recently on the PPGIS discussion list saying that FAO has updated their dams database of Africa by overlaying with Google Earth. There is an online interactive map on this page and you can download the data as well from the FAO’s GeoNetwork data downloading service by entering “dams” in the free text line. They have also recently updated their irrigated areas map. You can find maps of the latest data and an interactive map as well as downloads here. And speaking of water, more than half of the world’s lakes are facing serious problems caused by agricultural activities, according to a paper presented at the 11th International Living Lakes Conference. Which probably feeds back on agriculture in complicated ways. Anyway, I would guess that the effect of dams and new irrigation schemes on local wild biodiversity is usually negative, but is that necessarily always the case also for agro-biodiversity? I suspect so, but is there a possibility that at least sometimes existing crop genetic diversity is simply displaced a bit geographically or ecologically within the same general area and augmented by new crop genetic diversity adapted to the new conditions?

Hotspots backlash?

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.

Crop genetic diversity metas

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?