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?
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.
There’s a lot of talk about biofuels these days, but perhaps not much on how growing biofuel crops might actually benefit poor people. So here’s an interesting story from India about how private firms are paying villagers to plant jatropha – traditionally the fruits were collected from the wild, placed on bamboo spikes and burned for light.
According to this article, the number of date palms in Morocco has declined from 15 million at the end of the 19th century to 4.5 million now, mainly due to desertification. That has to have had some effect on genetic diversity, and I’m willing to bet there are data out there on the numbers of varieties at different times in the past.
A somewhat sketchy article in The China Post lists 12 plants that “can remove heavy metals from polluted farmland”. This has been a recurring theme for ages, but is still worth noting in case anyone can make use of the information. Officials have high hopes that “if the research proves successful in using the flowering plants and the biomass energy crops to remove pollution from farmland, it will not only able to help raise farmers’ incomes, but also encourage the reuse of polluted farmland, promote agricultural transformation and save water resources”.