Plight of the pollinators seen as a threat to global crops

The wild Andrena bee visiting blueberry flowers ~ Rufus Isaacs photo

The wild Andrena bee visiting blueberry flowers ~ Rufus Isaacs photo

February 28, 2013The tricoloured bumble bee used to flit around blueberry fields in the Maritimes pollinating flowers and helping deliver bumper berry crops.

Not anymore.

“In the 1990s it started to really decline,” says Steven Javorek, a landscape ecologist with Agriculture Canada. He says the once-common bee with its distinct orange belt is now rarely seen, joining the growing list of wild pollinators in trouble.

While they may be lowly insects, Javorek and his colleagues have amassed evidence that their demise is not just an environmental concern but a threat to global food production.

In an international study released Thursday they say wild pollinators are critical, if often overlooked and abused, players in agriculture.

They pollinate crops more effectively than honeybees leading to twice as many flowers developing into fruit and seed, the researchers report in their study in the journal Science.

Without steps to conserve wild pollinators and protect their habitats “the ongoing loss of wild insects is destined to compromise agricultural yields worldwide,” the scientists warn. Continue reading

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‘Muzzling’ of scientists called threat to democracy

Feb 21, 2013

Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has been asked to investigate the way the Harper government has been “muzzling” federal scientists.

The request, accompanied by a report on the government’s “systematic efforts” to obstruct access to researchers, was made jointly on Wednesday by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria and Democracy Watch, a national non-profit group. Continue reading

Plastic Planet _ Declare worst offenders hazardous

Stork in a plastic bag ~JOHNCANCALOSI/NATUREPL.COM

Stork in a plastic bag ~JOHNCANCALOSI/NATUREPL.COM

February 18, 2013

Despite efforts to reduce and recycle plastic, the planet is still awash with wayward wrappers, bottles and bags.

Almost half of the world’s marine animals and a fifth of its seabirds are at risk of becoming entangled or eating the stuff, prompting ecologists to call for the worst plastics to be declared hazardous materials.

Without action, the international group estimates, the planet could have another 33 billion tonnes of plastic by 2050. That would fill 2.75 billion garbage trucks, enough to wrap around the planet 800 times if lined up end to end, the researchers say in a commentaryin the current issue of the journal Nature.

“This could be reduced to just four billion tonnes if the most problematic plastics are classified as hazardous immediately and replaced with safer, reusable materials in the next decade,” they say.

Industry officials were quick to call the idea “neither justified nor helpful” saying plastic debris is better tackled through more research and “public-private partnerships.”

The ecologists say the physical dangers of plastic debris are “well enough established” and the chemical dangers “sufficiently worrying” to warrant regulatory action now. Continue reading

Scientists call federal confidentiality and publication rules “chilling”

Canadian and US scientists used the  CCGS Henry Larsen, shown at the entrance to Petermann Fjord off Nares Strait in August 2012, to retrieve instruments assessing the ice and currents in the region. Photo Credit: Jon Poole and CCGS Henry Larsen

Canadian and US scientists used the CCGS Henry Larsen, shown at the entrance to Petermann Fjord off Nares Strait in August 2012, to retrieve instruments assessing the ice and currents in the region. Photo Credit: Jon Poole and CCGS Henry Larsen

Feb 14, 2013

By Margaret Munro, Postmedia News

A bid by the federal government to impose sweeping confidentiality rules on an Arctic science project has run into serious resistance in the United States.

“I’m not signing it,” said Andreas Muenchow, of the University of Delaware, who has taken issue with the wording that Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans department has proposed for the Canada-U.S. project.

It’s an affront to academic freedom and a “potential muzzle,” said Muenchow, who has been collaborating with DFO scientists on the project in the Eastern Arctic since 2003.

DFO’s proposed confidentiality provisions say all technology and “other information” related to the Arctic project “shall be deemed to be confidential and neither party may release any such information to others in any way whatsoever without the prior written authorization of the other party.”

If enforced, Muenchow says  the fisheries department could prevent researchers from publishing scientific findings, blogging about their project or sharing information on the project with the media and public, which is encouraged by the U.S. agencies co-funding the project. Muenchow and DFO scientists involved in the project travel north by icebreaker to deploy and retrieve instruments to assess oceanographic conditions in the ice-choked Nares Strait, which runs between Canada’s Ellesmere Island and Greenland and may have a significant effect on ocean circulation.

Muenchow’s problem with the DFO comes amid growing concern and controversy over the Harper government’s micro-management of scientific projects. Continue reading

Exposing a ‘devil’s bargain’

Controlled fires set in the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve on Vancouver Island as part of a study that suggests many landscape may be vulnerable to ecosystem collapse.PHOTO: TIM ENNIS, NATURE CONSERVANCY OF CANADA

Controlled fires set in the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve on Vancouver Island as part of a study that suggests many landscape may be vulnerable to ecosystem collapse.
PHOTO: TIM ENNIS, NATURE CONSERVANCY OF CANADA

02.06.2013
VANCOUVER _ Ecologists have long suggested that ecosystems disturbed and managed by humans are prone to abrupt environmental collapse.

To test the theory Andrew MacDougall and his colleagues took their torches to small plots of grasslands on Vancouver Island.

And sure enough, the fire was enough to doom seemingly productive and healthy pastureland.

Within one growing season invasive woody plants took over, which is a remarkably quick and abrupt change, says MacDougall, at the University of Guelph, who led the 10-year  study.

The results, splashed across the cover a leading international science journal this week, point to what MacDougall and his colleagues describe as a potential “vulnerability to collapse” in many of the world’s ecosystems that have been disturbed by humans. Continue reading

Modern-day Noahs seek to secure world’s seeds

The entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in northern Norway~ photo by Global Crop Diversity Trust,

The entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in northern Norway
~ photo by Global Crop Diversity Trust




As fighting intensified in Syria last year, armed gangs raided a major international research institute, stealing vehicles, computers and farm machinery.

Luckily staff at the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas in Aleppo had decided to duplicate the institute’s irreplaceable seed bank when turmoil first began in Tunisia and Egypt.

And when the unrest spread to Syria, they boxed up the duplicated collection of thousands of varieties of wheat, barley, lentils, chickpeas and bean and shipped it off to the “doomsday” vault in the Norwegian Arctic for safekeeping.

“The last little bit left Syria in a truck going over the border to Turkey just before all hell broke lose,” says Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which helps manage the Svalbard Global Seed Vault safeguarding the world’s seeds.

Nearly 750,000 kinds of seed, more than half the varieties on Earth, are now stashed in the frigid compound that’s carved inside a mountain.

And Fowler, a modern day Noah, said it is critical the job gets finished. Continue reading