On mammal diversity and vegetation biomass

by Luigi Guarino on February 14, 2016

Two global maps coincidentally turned up almost side-by-side on Twitter this weekend. Interesting in their own right individually, they threw up a question for me when I was forced to look at them together in my feed. A paper in Diversity and Distributions mapped what the diversity of large mammals would look like if not for what humans have wrought. Here it is.

Fig 1: The natural diversity of large mammals is shown as it would appear without the impact of modern man. The figure shows the variation in the number of large mammals (>45kg) that would have occurred per 100x100km grid cell. The numbers on the scale indicate the number of species. Credit: Soren Faurby.

Fig 1: The natural diversity of large mammals is shown as it would appear without the impact of modern man. The figure shows the variation in the number of large mammals (>45kg) that would have occurred per 100x100km grid cell. The numbers on the scale indicate the number of species. Credit: Soren Faurby.

And a paper in Global Change Biology mapped above-ground vegetation biomass across the tropics.

"We combined two existing datasets of vegetation aboveground biomass (AGB) (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108, 2011, 9899; Nature Climate Change, 2, 2012, 182) into a pan-tropical AGB map at 1-km resolution ."

“We combined two existing datasets of vegetation aboveground biomass (AGB) (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108, 2011, 9899; Nature Climate Change, 2, 2012, 182) into a pan-tropical AGB map at 1-km resolution.”

So my question is this: why does high-biomass vegetation support a relatively large diversity of mammals in SE Asia, but not in tropical Africa or South America?

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Promoting local varieties through fancy cooking

by Luigi Guarino on February 13, 2016

So, did everyone catch the common strand in a lot of Friday’s Nibbles? I’ll give you a couple more minutes to figure it out, so go and have another look…

Yep, it’s the use of local crops and varieties in gourmet cuisine. And by implication the role of high-end chefs and restaurants1 in conserving them, for example maize landraces in Oaxaca, everything from potatoes to huacatay in Peru, heirloom rice in the Philippines, and, for added piquancy, wild pepper in Madagascar.

Interesting that a number of CGIAR centres are involved in this kind of work. Although CIP is not mentioned by name in the Peru article, they do have form. And the International Year of Pulses presents an opportunity that some at least are grabbing with both hands. Here’s hoping it’s all part of an ingenious system-wide strategy which will do something about pearl millet next. No, wait

Footnotes:
  1. Though who knows, informal vendors may be coming up fast on the inside. []

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The hipster future of coffee starts with a genebank

by Luigi Guarino on February 13, 2016

I started a post a few days ago with a quote suggesting that all that commercial farmers are interested in is yield. So let’s balance that today with this:

Geisha in undoubtedly a luxury, but in one important way, it deserves the hype. It is the first coffee to be grown commercially just because it tastes good.

coffee 002We blogged about the journey of the remarkable coffee landrace called Geisha (or Gesha) a few years ago: from Ethiopia’s forests to the CATIE genebank in Costa Rica to the Peterson family farm in Panama to all over the world, or, more specifically, a hipster coffee shop in Taiwan. But Hanna Neuschwander‘s Coffee in the New Millennium tells the story at much greater length, not to mention with much greater skill. For example, I wish I had thought to describe hillside coffee plantations, with their neat, undulating rows of bushes, as “living corduroy.”

The piece ends with a neat juxtaposition between World Coffee Research’s monumental International Multi-location Variety Trials and the more geographically focussed, but no less ambitious, in its own way, effort by the Peterson family. They’re looking for a new Geisha among hundreds of other Ethiopian landraces they are now testing on their Panamanian farm. I only have one bone to pick with Ms Neuschwander: why not fully acknowledge the role of the genebank at CATIE in all this, rather than just referring, anonymously, to “a research facility in Costa Rica”?

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The International Committee is seeking proposals to host Harlan III and requests that interested groups consider the above factors in preparing a prospectus for the symposium, giving special attention to the potential financial requirements and sources of funding. For consideration for a symposium to be held in 2017, the prospectus should be received at UC Davis by April 15, 2016.

The Harlan Symposium is a very prestigious, not to say blog-worthy, event, and I’m sure people will be falling over themselves to host it.

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That’s some funny looking coffee

12 February 2016

That apocalyptic video from Business Insider that we Nibbled earlier is silly in a number of ways, but someone should really have found better stock footage to illustrate small, family-run coffee farms.

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Squashing that old old squash seeds story

12 February 2016

As the story goes, some six years ago, during an archeological dig on the Menomonie Reservation, a clay ball was unearthed. It was clear that there was something inside of this clay ball and, when opened, what was found were squash seeds, carbon dated to 800 years old. Some of these seeds were planted and […]

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Organic boost

11 February 2016

Interesting news for everyone interested in organic agriculture, whatever exactly that might be. In India, the ministry of agriculture has decided to set up a research institution devoted to the subject, the National Organic Farming Research Institute (NOFRI). Setting up the institute in Sikkim assumes significance as it is the only state in the country […]

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It’s already happening

10 February 2016

It seems the majority of species examined are already affected by #climatechange Camille Parmesan #SpeciesOnTheMove pic.twitter.com/XzH7vZje8c — Otter Civet (@Ottercivet) February 9, 2016 That’s from a summary of 5 meta-analyses, covering 4000 species. Follow at #SpeciesOnTheMove.

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GRIN-Global hitting its stride

9 February 2016

A couple of months ago we announced that USDA had adopted a new genebank data management system, GRIN-Global. There was some question at that time about whether Portugal was on board as well, but that seems now to be the case. So the ever-growing list of GRIN-Global users is now as follows: CIMMYT, Maize Genebank […]

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Drying figs, breaking bread

9 February 2016

For commercial farmers and state bodies this kind of project currently lacks economic feasibility. But for community gardens, and people who have private gardens, there are other considerations. People who plant a tree in their private garden, or in a pot on their balcony, don’t need an industrial species. They would likely prefer a smaller […]

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