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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Researchers: tropical plantation farms can aid biodiversity

There has been a lot of criticism about monocultures at the margin of the tropical forest frontier, but researchers have now found that certain models of plantation farming can in fact help sustain the biodiversity of these forests. The scientists found that an areca nut plantation in south-west India supported 90% of the bird species found in surrounding native forests. The low-impact agriculture system has been used for more than 2,000 years and should be considered as a new option for conservation efforts, they added. The findings appear in an open access article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team of scientists from the US and India chose the site on the coastal fringes of the Western Ghat mountain range because it met a number of attributes the study required:
  • a long history of continuous agricultural production
  • intense human pressure
  • extensive natural areas still remaining
The landscape consisted of a mixture of intact forest, "production forest" (where non-timber products, such as leaves, were allowed to be removed) and areas of cash crops, primarily areca nut palms (Areca catechu).

The researchers found a total of 51 forest (bird) species in this study system, they wrote. These species were broadly distributed across the landscape, with 46 (90%) found outside of the intact forest. Within areca nut plantations, they recorded threatened forest species, such as the great hornbill (Buceros bicornis) and the Malabar grey hornbill (Ocyceros griseus).

The team said the combination of the height of the areca nut palms (Areca catechu) and the plantations' close proximity to the intact forest created the necessary ecological conditions to support forest bird species.

They added that data showed the distribution of species in the area had been relatively stable for more than 2,000 years, before the first farmers cultivated the area.

As well as having a high ecological value, the plantations were also economically productive. The areca nut is consumed by about 10% of the world's population, predominantly Asian communities.

The shade provided by the palms' canopy also created the conditions that allowed farmers to grow other high-value crops, such as pepper, vanilla and bananas.

Rather than expanding the plantations, the farmers relied upon the leaf litter from the surrounding production forests to produce mulch for their crops, rather than using costly fertilisers. The researchers also said alternative crops that could be grown in the wet lowlands, such as rice, yielded lower returns both economically and ecologically:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Lead author Jai Ranganathan, from the US National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), said the findings provided another option for conservationists to consider
If it is not possible to make places completely protected areas then they can look at whether a system like this will help support the rich biodiversity. [...] It identifies another tool that can be used by conservationists. - Dr Jai Ranganathan
While the production system delivers economic and environmental benefits, health officials have voiced concerns about how the areca nut, which contain a stimulant called arecoline, is primarily consumed.

It is chewed either by itself or as a part of "betel quid", which generally consists of a betel leaf (from the Piper betle vine) wrapped around pieces of areca nut, slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) and generally tobacco.

In 2003, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a warning that linked chewing areca nuts to an increased risk of cancer.

Dr Ranganathan said the researchers were aware of the health concerns associated with the areca crop, but the purpose of the study was to understand how tropical agriculture and biodiversity could co-exist in close proximity.

Areca nut cultivation has an extremely long history in south and south-east Asia and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, he said. Given this persistence, I feel that it would be a shame to overlook the potential benefits of this cultivation system for biodiversity.

Dr Ranganathan said that he intended to look for further examples of established agriculture and cultivation practises in the region that provided habitats that supported a high level of biodiversity.

The research indicates that low-impact tropical biofuel plantations can be made equally sustainable, even at the forest frontier, and possibly help millions of the world's poorest.


Jai Ranganathan, R. J. Ranjit Daniels, M. D. Subash Chandran, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Gretchen C. Daily, "Sustaining biodiversity in ancient tropical countryside", PNAS published early edition, November 3, 2008, doi:10.1073/pnas.0808874105


Blogger xoddam said...

Biodiesel from cellulose via fungus, found in Patagonian forests.

Incredibly, Biopact isn't where I read it first! Probably you guys already knew and were just digging a little deeper before posting :-)

4:42 AM  

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