Monday, June 2, 2014

Killing species at 1000 times the natural rate: 29 May 2014 - New Scientist

This post comes directly from New Scientist ENVIRONMENT Page


We are killing species at 1000 times the natural rate - environment - 29 May 2014 - New Scientist

First the bad news. Humans are driving species to extinction at around 1000 times the natural rate, at the top of the range of an earlier estimate. We also don't know how many species we can afford to lose.
Now the good news. Armed with your smartphone, you can help conservationists save them.
Birds from Brazil: let get more threatened species in the red zone <i>(Image: Clinton Jenkins)</i>

The new estimate of the global rate of extinction comes from Stuart Pimm of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and colleagues. It updates a calculation Pimm's team released in 1995, that human activities were driving species out of existence at 100 to 1000 times the background rate (Science,
It turns out that Pimm's earlier calculations both underestimated the rate at which species are now disappearing, and overestimated the background rate over the past 10 to 20 million years.

Gone gone gone

The Red List assessments of endangered species, conducted by theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are key to Pimm's analysis. They have evolved from patchy lists of threatened species into comprehensive surveys of animal groups and regions.
"Twenty years ago we simply didn't have the breadth of underlying data with 70,000 species assessments in hand," says team member Thomas Brooks of the IUCN in Gland, Switzerland.
By studying animals' DNA, biologists have also created family trees for many groups of animals, allowing them to calculate when new species emerged. On average, it seems each vertebrate species gives rise to a new species once every 10 million years.
It's hard to measure the natural rate of extinction, but there is a workaround. Before we started destroying habitats, new species seem to have been appearing faster than old ones disappeared. That means the natural extinction rate cannot be higher than the rate at which they were forming, says Pimm.
For the most part, the higher estimate of the modern extinction rate is not caused by any acceleration in extinctions since 1995. One exception is an increase in threats to amphibians, partly due to the global spread of the killer chytrid fungus.

Save everything

The big unknown is what the high current extinction rate means for the health of entire ecosystems. Some researchers have suggested "sustainable" targets for species' loss, but there's still no scientific way to predict at what point cumulative extinctions cause an ecosystem to collapse. "People who say that are pulling numbers out of the air," says Pimm.
Still, it seems unlikely that extinctions running at 1000 times the background rate can be sustained for long. "You can be sure that there will be a price to be paid," says Brooks.
Pimm's team has also compiled detailed global maps of biodiversity, showing the numbers of threatened species and total species richness in a global grid consisting of squares 10 kilometres across.
Such maps can help conservationists decide what to do.
For instance, Pimm and his colleague Clinton Jenkins of the Institute for Ecological Research in Nazaré Paulista, Brazil, noticed high numbers of threatened species on Brazil's Atlantic coast. Local forests were being cleared for cattle ranching. So they are working with a Brazilian group, the Golden Lion Tamarin Association, to buy land and reconnect isolated forest fragments.
But conservationists need more data, and you can help, through projects likeiNaturalist. Users share photos of the creatures they see via iPhone andAndroid apps, and experts identify them. "Right now, someone is posting an observation about every 30 seconds," says co-director Scott Loarie of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Images from the PLANTBANK residency

Today is Tuesday and I leave PLANTBANK on Friday, May 9th so it has been an intensely busy period. I've been recording the days on my Facebook page : Homage to the Seed and on Instagram.

This is the photo feed from FB.  You will need to refer to May, 2014 for the appropriate images if you are reading this after May, 2014.

An introduction to the PLANTBANK Residency

In 2008 I bought a Mac Desktop computer and really for the first time started documenting images reasonably successfully, and frequently. In May 2009 I started blogging at Visual Eclectica and that PLUS getting onto a Mac computer, which gradually I could navigate with ease, represented a revolution in a sense for my Art Practice.

From a painter normally surrounded by canvases and works on paper, unceasingly productive whenever circumstances allowed, I gradually shifted the focus of my art practice so that writing became more public, articulating ideas and influences, researching and in time, further developing the Homage to the seed project after its launch in 2010 for a Residency at Brisbane Botanic Gardens.

Interactions particularly ... and research ... shaped what I investigated, how and when... and gradually that morphed into whole new chapters and directions, all within the Homage to the Seed project.

Why I mention this is to highlight the fact that whilst photography has long been a process of documentation for me .... its never been an art form in that I never took it seriously as a way for me to express what I wanted to say.

I've been surprised when positive comments were made about some images in the last few years  because it actually forced me to reflect on what one is doing when one photographs. As a painter I am not drawn to replicate everyday reality. My paintings invariably lean to abstraction no matter the starting point. Aesthetically I like nature to appear dusty and raw... seeds are often dusty and can easily disintegrate over time. Creating highly polished renditions never seemed to make all that much sense to me as a way of interpreting material as art work.

Scientifically speaking  Botanical Illustration makes absolute sense and can certainly be perceived as very beautiful or remarkable in its own right. And without doubt they can be artworks of great integrity. But personally I am pulled to a different journey in responding to seed material... be it pods, capsules, seeds and interpretations via micro imagery, drawings or photos.

At times though favouring abstract painting over photographing and drawing seeds has seemed at odds with something I very much like to do... and that is showcase the extraordinary diversity of seed forms. But back in the studio there are compering demands on my time and focus and without the availability of what I can access at a place like this the

On this residency the Microscopy Room has been like a voyage to another world ... one that I've been hoping to visit for some time. There is a lot more I could say about what this has given me but this in not the time as I have a painting in progress.

Two processes available in this room are the X-ray machine and Micro-imaging computer. I have worked on both finding X-raying seeds brought the best results to date. It takes time however and I made only a rudimentary start n the Micro-imaging.

This eucalyptus species, Eucalyptus erythrocorys , was the perfect example of a seed that at first glance seems quite ordinary. 100's of seeds fall from each capsule and its only when gathered up in a petrie dish like below... that one begins to notice each seed look different to the naked eye... size and shape vary a great deal. Three dimensional, the complexity is obvious under the microscope... but under the x-ray machine something even more fascinating can be observed.

These are the x-rays  of this same seed ...

In this image I was reminded how well over-lapping works

so made a point of crowding the seeds together in the petrie dish for this next image

...  then focused in and altered the back and white contrast tabs, using my iPhone camera to take a large series of variations and close-ups in preference to using the machine to capture images and slowly save each one... one at a time.

This imagery lends itself beautifully to artistic interpretation. It already has the appearance of a beautifully rendered tonal drawing.

I will be downloading more images soon... Ive taken 100's.  Until then you can go to Facebook for updates on this residency.  


Monday, April 28, 2014

On residency at PLANTBANK till May 9th.

This is a very quick post on my current residency at Plantbank at the Australian Botanic Gardens, Mt Annan, which is in South West Sydney, NSW.

I'll be updating on this residency at my Facebook page and if time permits here at Homage to the Seed blog as well.

Stay tuned for more on this. ... and join me at the public page on FB for updates.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Use of genetic diversity to adapt crops to human needs is as old as the Neolithic revolution


Global Ex-Situ Crop Diversity Conservation and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: Assessing the Current Status

  • Ola T. Westengen mail,
  • Simon Jeppson,
  • Luigi Guarino
    Sophie Munns : Today I am sharing the Introduction to an article well worth reading if you wish to understand more on this topic. 
    "The use of genetic diversity to adapt crops to human needs is as old as the Neolithic revolution[1]. In the 1920s the Russian geneticist and botanist Nicolai Vavilov started systematically collecting and conserving genetic diversity as a resource for crop breeding, making ex-situ (off-site) conservation part of the agricultural R&D system [2]. Crops producing seeds that can be conserved at low relative humidity and low temperature (orthodox seeds) are now commonly conserved ex-situ in genebanks. The two-fold rationale for genebanks is, on the one hand, to conserve diversity that is threatened in-situ (in farmers' fields or in the wild) and, on the other hand, to make genetic resources accessible to users [3]. In the 1930s, the barley breeder Harry V. Harlan was among the first to sound the alarm on genetic erosion of crop genetic resources[4], and, in 1967, a conference in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) initiated what has become the genetic resources movement [5]. In the early 1970s, other hallmark conferences laid out practical action plans for the FAO and the Consultative Group on Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to establish an international network of conservation activities and genebanks [6][7]. While the initial focus was on establishing a small number of genebanks with a global mandate, the FAO currently reports that there are 1750 genebanks around the world [8]. Precarious funding, in combination with less than perfect collaboration and coordination among genebanks, has called into question the ability of many of these facilities to ensure long-term conservation, and genetic erosion inside genebanks has become a major concern [8][9]. The need for proper safety duplication of the world's unique crop genetic resources is therefore an important international priority [8][10][11]."

    Photo: A conservationist holds two vials of peas at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
    Cary Fowler, former Executive Director of Global Crop Diversity Trust
    Photograph by Jim Richardson, National Geographic

    "The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established with the “objective to provide a safety net for the international conservation system of plant genetic resources, and to contribute to the securing of the maximum amount of plant genetic diversity of importance to humanity for the long term in accordance with the latest scientific knowledge and most appropriate techniques[12].The Seed Vault is managed in partnership by the Government of Norway, the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen) and the Global Crop Diversity Trust (the Trust). NordGen is a public regional institute supported by the governments of the Nordic countries, and the Trust an independent international organization based in Bonn, Germany. The Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food is the legally responsible authority for the Seed Vault, and its operation is overseen by an International Advisory Council consisting of international technical and policy experts representing, among others, the FAO, national genebanks, the CGIAR and the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). The Seed Vault provides free-of-charge, long-term storage of duplicates from genebanks around the world and works as an insurance policy against incremental or catastrophic loss of the original collections (Fig. 1). The international community has called for an effective, efficient and sustainable global system to conserve Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) in the Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (GPA) [13][14] and the ITPGRFA [15]. The Seed Vault has, in its five years of operation, become a cornerstone in the global system emerging from within this international policy and legal framework, and good progress has been made towards the target of duplicating all the distinct accessions of PGRFA conserved as orthodox seeds around the world. At its fifth anniversary in February 2013, the collection stood at 774,601 seed samples, originating from 95% of the 193 UN member states. All seed samples are safety duplicates of accessions already stored in conventional genebanks, with 53 genebanks having deposited material so far (Fig. 2)."

    To read more on this, + view images and graphs go to ARTICLE.

    At the conclusion is this:
    Symbol for the larger cause
    The Seed Vault has gained considerable international media attention and even fame [40]. We believe that media reports, though occasionally inaccurate, have contributed to increased public awareness about the importance of crop diversity. While conservation of genetic resources has been part of the environmental movement since the seminal UN conference on the human environment held in Stockholm in 1972, it has often been overshadowed by other issues. The Seed Vault has contributed towards raising the profile of this issue on the broader environmental and food security agenda. In the words of the late Nobel Laureate, Wangari Maathai: “The significant public interest in the seed vault project indicates that collectively we are changing the way we think about environmental conservation. We now understand that along with international movements to save endangered species and the rainforests of the world, it is just as important for us to conserve the diversity of the world's crops for future generations.” The Seed vault is not a panacea for securing the future's food supply, but it is an important element in safely conserving the genetic resources necessary for agricultural development. As the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on the occasion of his visit in the Seed Vault in 2009: “Sustainable food production may not begin in this cold arctic environment, but it does begin by conserving crop diversity.
    In light of the huge media attention directed towards the Seed Vault, it is important to stress that it only makes sense as a part of a global conservation system. The conventional genebanks spread around the world are doing the essential job of conserving, regenerating, multiplying and distributing seeds to those that use them for applied and basic research for agricultural development and increased food security. The Seed Vault is, on the one hand, a high-profile environment and development project and, on the other, a low-tech practical solution increasingly serving a basic global need for the safety duplication of seeds held in conventional genebanks, as documented in our analyses. There are important synergies between these two aspects, and the Seed Vault plays an important symbolic role for enhanced integration and cooperation in the global ex-situ conservation efforts.

    You might also like to read more of this article below from National Geographic:

    Food Ark

    A crisis is looming: To feed our growing population, we’ll need to double food production. Yet crop yields aren’t increasing fast enough, and climate change and new diseases threaten the limited varieties we’ve come to depend on for food. Luckily we still have the seeds and breeds to ensure our future food supply—but we must take steps to save them.

    By Charles Siebert

    It took more than 10,000 years of domestication for humans to create the vast biodiversity in our food supply that we're now watching ebb away. Selectively breeding a wild plant or animal species for certain desirable traits began as a fitful process of trial and error motivated by that age-old imperative: hunger. Wild wheat, for example, drops its ripened kernels to the ground, or shatters, so that the plant can reseed itself. Early farmers selected out wheat that, due to a random genetic mutation, didn't shatter and was thus ideal for harvesting. 

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    OPEN STUDIO EVENT at Seed.Art.Lab this weekend, April 12 + 13 in Brisbane

    This is a quick post ahead of a big weekend at my Brisbane Studio: Seed.Art.Lab to let you know all are welcome if you happen to be in this region and would like to come along!

    I've just been finessing plans for our wee Pop-up cafe on the side of the Studio plans.... and went back to a favourite book of mine by Diana Henry for the recipe for Yoghurt and Walnut Cake with Coffee Syrup last night. Perhaps the Orange Almond Cake pictured above will be our gluten free offering.... the Walnut cake is not gluten free... but has substantially less flour being laden with walnuts! I go really light on the sugar in it as well... have made this many times and the flavours are sensational without loads of sweetness.

    To read all the details about the event go to the website home page here.

    Also on the home page is the link to the Latest Newsletter which you can read here telling you about my next residency at the brand New Plantbank Seed Research Facility in NSW and this event.

    48 Meemar St
    Chermside 4032
    Brisbane,   QLD
    m: 0430 599 344


    Midday till 5pm both days
    12 + 13 April, 2014

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