Biodiversity and ecosystem services

A mammoth metadata study of 111 different papers concludes that “biodiversity matters”. Well, duh. But it is good to have data. The study is published in Nature (press release here) for 25 October. To demonstrate the value of biodiversity, the study’s author Bradley Cardinale chose a paper that shows that the presence of three aphid predators has a greater impact on pests than one would expect from each of the three alone. In a single state — Wisconsin — this pesticidal service was worth millions of dollars, Cardinale said. Not to dismiss all the other services that biodiversity performs, but it seems that one way to get decision makers to understand its importance is to turn those nebulous “services” into something they do understand: cold hard cash.

Banking British rare breeds

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.

African Vegetables — “not without merit”

Many people interested in crop diversity have on their bookshelves the “Lost crops …” series published by America’s National Academies of Science. They detail neglected species of South America and Africa, gathering the kind of summary data that is so hard to find in one place. A new volume on African Vegetables has just been published, and it looks really interesting. From the blurb:

The report examines the promise of 18 African vegetables to help feed the continent’s growing population and spur sustainable development. These native vegetables – including amaranth, cowpea, and egusi – are still cherished in many parts of Africa, and even attract some research interest, but they are typically overlooked by scientists and policymakers in the world at large. In the past, these local plants may have been judged less valuable than the well-known vegetables introduced to Africa from other parts of the world. But because few indigenous vegetables have been studied extensively, information about them is often outdated, difficult to find, or largely anecdotal. Despite this neglect, they are not without merit, the report emphasizes.

The printed copy is expensive. But for anyone with a good internet connection, the entire thing is available for reading — and searching — online from the NAS web site.

Volume 1, covering grains, came out in 1996. Volume 3 will cover African Fruits. Let’s hope it arrives before 2016.