Shipping CratesAccording to a new study just released in the current issue of Science, “over half a million shipments of wildlife containing >1.48 billion live animals have been imported by the United States since 2000…[and] the majority (92%) of imports were designated for commercial purposes, largely the pet trade.” Most of these imports were fish and species of coral, although all major groups of animals were imported.

That is a lot of animals; roughly 4.8 animals per person in the Unites States (estimated population in US is 304,000,000 according to Google)! Unfortunately, this study also found that a large number of these shipments did not contain the proper information to determine what exactly was being imported. According to this study, almost a third of the shipments were only labeled generically, using labels like “marine fish” or “live invertebrate.” This may be cause for concern, considering most of the imported animals were from wild populations in places like Southeast Asia, which has a high threshold of emerging diseases, which may be transmissible between animals and humans.

The authors of this study, including scientists from the Wildlife Trust, Brown University, Pacific Lutheran University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Global Invasive Species Programme, suggest that new measures are needed to decrease the risk of new pathogen introduction and to protect not only people, but also local animals and the health of our ecosystem. Unfortunately, there is currently no national strategy, legislative authority, or funding devoted to oversight of the live wildlife trade to implement any changes, but this study recommends much more strict record keeping of imported animals, third-party surveillance of imports and testing of pathogens in imported animals, and better public education about the dangers of diseases that may be brought in to the country.

The CDC’s “Healthy Pets, Healthy People” Web site advises pet owners about zoonotic diseases associated with some wildlife, but not only do pet owners need to be more aware of what they are bringing into their homes. Pet stores, veterinarians, and animal advocates should also be more educated on the risks of imported wildlife and how possible diseases may effect their businesses.



Duckweed may help clean up the planet!

Wouldn’t it be great to get rid of animal (and maybe even human) waste in an eco-friendly way while also producing energy to run our cars? This scenario may be closer than we think. Researchers at North Carolina State University presented data at the annual conference of the Institute of Biological Engineering in Santa Carla, Calif last month that may bring us closer to this goal.

A tiny aquatic plant, called duckweed, was used to clean up animal waste stored in “lagoons” on hog farms. Growing this plant on wastewater produces five to six times more starch per acre than corn and captures nutrients that would otherwise pollute the environment. The fast-growing, high-starch duckweed can then be converted into ethanol, just as is currently being done with corn.

This is good news for those who have been arguing against the environmental friendliness of using corn as a bio-fuel. Concerns with using corn in this capacity include land competition for food crops, groundwater depletion, soil erosion, algae blooms, and the formation of “dead zones” in waterways inundated with pesticide and fertilizer runoff. The use of duckweed may convent some, if not all, of these problems. Indeed, duckweed may even reduce the nutrient (fertilizer) load on farms.

Dr. Jay Cheng, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at North Carolina State University, and Dr. Anne-Marie Stomp, associate professor of forestry at North Carolina State University, are planning on continuing their research by establishing a pilot-scale project to help establish a large-scale system for growing duckweed on animal wastewater, and then harvesting and drying the duckweed for ethanol production. Let’s just hope they can keep the duckweed from contaminating natural bodies of water!

adapted from a news release by North Carolina State University on EurekAlert!

Honey Bee image:

There has been much talk in the last few years about the rapid decline of honeybees and what that decline means for farmers. Honeybees are not only used for making honey, but actually pollinate many of the food supply crops we consume. Although a ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ has occurred before, this time it seems as though it is due to the varroa mite. Unfortunately, this clever little bug is becoming resistant to the pesticides previously used to control their numbers.

ScienceDaily (July 28, 2008 ) — One of the biggest world wide threats to honey bees, the varroa mite, could soon be about to meet its nemesis. Researchers at the University of Warwick are examining naturally occurring fungi that kill the varroa mite. They are also exploring a range of ways to deliver the killer fungus throughout the hives from bee fungal foot baths to powder sprays.

Although this new breakthrough seems encouraging and eco-friendly (no use of pesticides), whenever I hear plans to introduce a new species to control a pest problem I always wonder if the new species will cause more of a problem than the initial menace. In this case, introducing a new fungus to control the varroa mites may have implications for other insects or plants in the area. Hopefully, we learn from past experiences (like introducing the cane toad in Australia to ward off sugar-cane pests) and are more prudent about introducing a new species to places where they do not belong.

Undamaged Coral Reef

Undamaged Coral Reef

If you have ever been snorkeling or scuba diving at any of the Atlantic or Caribbean coral reefs off the coast of the Florida Keys, Mexico, or beyond consider yourself lucky enough to have witnessed the beauty and wonder that the ocean can contain. Your children may not be so lucky.

Coral Reef damaged by boat anchor

Coral Reef damaged by boat anchor

In the July 10th web edition of Science, Dr. Kent Carpenter and his colleagues explore the extent of coral reef destruction and the risk of extinction of the myriad species of coral. Of the 704 reef-building coral species assessed in this report, 231 are listed in the Threatened categories, while 407 are in Threatened and Near Threatened categories. This is in vast contrast to their assessment of numbers before 1998, when 20 species would have been categorized as Near Threatened and only 13 listed as Threatened. This is a dramatic increase in the number of coral species on the verge of extinction.

According to Carpenter, although the disturbances in the coral populations are lead by a change in the global climate, local threats by human interference reduces the ability of coral to withstand those global changes. The loss of coral’s resilience due to human disturbance such as coastal development, over fishing, pollution, and even eco-tourism could make extinction a real and present-day threat to our beautiful coral reefs. According to an article in Science News online edition, a status report on reef communities by the NOAA reef research program found that 69% of Pacific reefs are still in good condition, but only 25% of Caribbean and Atlantic ones fall in that category

Not only would this mass extinction have a huge economic impact on communities that rely on reef fish for food, this could this devastate the bio-diversity found in and around coral reefs and impact the ocean as a whole. Education and awareness of our impact on these ancient structures is an important step in changing our destructive presence (whether through fishing, snorkeling, or the like) to unobtrusive visitors that leave no traces behind.

A Canadian High School student, Daniel Burd, recently discovered a way to quickly degrade plastic bags – bacteria. I came across this interesting news in GeekDad’s Wired blog.

Burd isolated a type of bacteria that can hasten the breakdown of plastic, specifically the plastic from which grocery bags are produced. This discovery could change the way we dispose of plastic bags forever. As plastic grocery bags are a big part of the problem of an abundant source of slowly degrading waste products in the US, this finding should come as good news to environmentalists.

It will be interesting to see how much news this science fair project generates and if we will see commercial use of these little bugs in the future.

Original Article