Complications with selective breeding in dogs


 

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(rudyeleazardubon/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| November 4, 2019

 

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found evidence that artificial dog breeding has affected the animal’s brain.

Artificial dog breeding has been around for centuries, even notably performed by George Washington and the crossbreed of the American foxhound. Selective breeding is done to achieve desired behavioral and physical characteristics. A study at Harvard University set out to find out if the practice has affected their physical characteristics in ways we can’t see. 

Dr. Erin Hecht, the leader of the study, focused on brain structure unrelated to body size or head shape. 62 male and female dogs of 33 different dog species were given MIRS. After the areas of the brains were analyzed, the team created six separate brain network models, each related to a different behavior specialization like hunting, guarding, companionship, etc. An analyzation of the data revealed that brain anatomy has significant variation among the different dog species, likely related to human-applied selection for behavior. 

This study is one of the first related to the complications of selective breeding and Dr. Hecht, and their team, look forward to continuing their research. 

The Amazon is on fire due to the world’s high demand for beef


Image from Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | August 30th, 2019

The ongoing fire in the Amazon rainforest can be attributed to the world’s high demand for beef.

Brazil is one of the world’s leading exporters of beef and cattle, and with an increasing demand for meat, farmers are pushed to set fire to the rainforest in order to clear land. That land is also used to grow soy to feed chickens and pigs. While this practice is illegal, it is rarely enforced, according to a report from the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

In the report, it says beef exports make up 2.33 percent of Brazil’s economy, and the country exports 20 percent of the beef it produces, using the remaining 80 percent to feed the country of 200 million people. The demand for beef in Brazil increases by ten percent every year, along with the need for more farmland. There are 232 million heads of cattle in Brazil — one per each Brazilian resident.

While the need for agriculture expansion caused the fire, beef production comes with its own environmental risks as well. In the CU report, it says one pound of beef requires about 298 square feet of land and 800 liters of water, and an average cow produces about 400 pounds of meat. So, one cow requires 84,000 jugs of water and about two football fields worth of farmland. Additionally, one-third of all freshwater on earth is used for livestock.

The report says that an immediate solution to threat in the Amazon is to reduce the demand for meat, naming China and the EU as some of Brazil’s top customers. The report encouraged those countries to import some of their beef from other countries to lessen the impact on Brazil. Local beef consumption in Brazil needs to be curbed as well.

The Amazon is on fire, again


Image from Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | August 23rd, 2019

The Amazon rainforest is on fire. There have been over 74,000 fires in the Brazilian Amazon since January, according to a report from the Washington Post, making for an 85 percent increase in fires since last year.

Researchers at Brazil’s space center, INPE, told Reuters that there is nothing abnormal about climate or the amount of rainfall this year in the Amazon. A majority of the fires were started by farmers in the region preparing farmland for planting season, as natural fires in the Amazon are rare. There were hundreds of recorded fires set by farmers on Aug. 10 in an attempt to clear land and further development, much of which is illegal according to the Washington Post. Farmers often use the land for cattle and soybeans.

The Amazon, sometimes referred to as the Earth’s “lungs,” has an extremely role in releasing oxygen and storing carbon dioxide. The Amazon lost 1,330 square miles of forest cover during the first half of 2019, according to The New York Times. The report says that while climate change did not start these fires, a changing climate can make human-caused fires worse. Fires burn more quickly in dry conditions.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the fires have caused a spike in carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions — a serious threat to public health and to global warming.

Japanese beetles invading gardens and vineyards


Photo by Mike Bird on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | July 26th, 2019

Japanese beetles are invading vineyards in Iowa in unexpected numbers, according to a report from The Des Moines Register.

The report said that about 50 to 60 percent of Iowa vineyards are spraying pesticides to prevent or combat Japanese beetles. The beetles like to chew on vines, grapes, and fruit trees, but are damaging flower beds in gardens and eating the foliage from trees and shrubs. 

The beetles lay their eggs underground, where the larvae can cause grass to wilt and turn brown. They are among one of the major pests in the Midwest, and cause great damage to crops each year. The bugs feed mostly on corn and soybean crops – two major crops in Iowa.

The beetle first arrived to the United States in the early 1900s. According to the Des Moines Register report, the Japanese beetle colony experienced a collapse in the winter of 2013-14, but have since been able to rebuild.

These beetles like to attack plants in groups, making damage more severe even though their life cycle is only 40 days. Spraying insecticides and being mindful of what you plant and where you plant it are some ways to prevent these beetles from eating up your garden. You can look at this list of the best and worst plants for Japanese beetles. 

On The Radio- Chimpanzees feel anxiety too


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(flickr/Aaron Logan)

Kasey Dresser| July 14, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how social stress manifests in chimpanzees. 

Transcript: 

Chimpanzees react to social stress, just like humans.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Behavioral dominance is the hierarchical relationship between members of a community established through force, aggression or even submission. In many animal species, dominant individuals have health and fitness benefits, more than their peers. However, a new study from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology uses chimpanzees to study some costs of behavioral dominance. 

In a community of chimpanzees, there are periods where the social dominance hierarchy shifts and there is competition among the males. Surprisingly, a majority of chimpanzees become less aggressive during that time due to stress. The senior author for the study, Roman Wittig, explained that chimpanzees are territorial but employ conflict management to diminish the risk of injuries. 

This reaction is not only behavioral. The authors collected urine samples and discovered high cortisol levels, indicating high stress, during such periods. The study showed that aggression alone is not a good indicator of competition between chimps.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

 

 

 

 

On The Radio- Increasing Mass Extinctions


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The Iberian Lynx: a cat species from Spain. There are only a few hundred left in the world. (flickr/Mario Nonaka)

Kasey Dresser| June 24, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how human beings are causing mass extinction of over one million species

Transcript: 

Earths landscapes are changing and about one million species are in danger.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

With the human population passing seven billion, homo sapiens are pushing animals out of the picture in need for more space.

The sharp decline in species is likely to occur by 2050, and it will affect biodiversity. Humans are not the only problem that animals have to face, but global warming as well, a natural result of human treatment towards the environment. 

Nature provides trillions in non-monetized saving that benefits human beings every year. If wildlife and tropical rain forests cease to exist, our medicine would change drastically. Over 23 percent of the planets land area is being harmed because humans are producing more food than ever, causing land degradation. 

Our previous miniscule efforts of creating wild life refuges and efforts to protect individual species will no longer be sufficient.  Scientists have stated that nations need to step up in their efforts to protect natural habitats.  

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

 

 

The delicate balance between carbon and Earthworms


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Worms help keep our soil fertile, but they play a much bigger part in our environment | Photo by Christina Pirker on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 21th, 2019

Earthworms are essential to the health of our soil, fertilizing gardens and fields. But their relationship with the earth is complicated–and the link between earthworms and carbon is being continuously investigated by scientists.

North America used to have earthworms. Its native species was wiped out thousands of years ago during an ice age. European settlers brought their own variety to their new home, and the continent has been populated ever since.

Earthworms are simple organisms, but they greatly affect the health of our soil. Some feed on topsoil, while others burrow down, coming up to eat dead leaves on the surface. All varieties help fertilize the ground–but sometimes, if the location isn’t right, earthworm activity does more harm than good.

This is especially true for earthworm activity in North American boreal forests, a network of coniferous (evergreen) trees that normally don’t house these small creatures. As the worms dig down through the soil, they release carbon that’s been packed into the forest floor. Boreal forest floors are essentially carbon sponges, and the spread of earthworms to these previously worm-less regions threatens to release all of that stored carbon, further accelerating our current climate change.

Exactly how these earthworms have spread from their more natural habitat to the evergreen forests of North America is a bit of a mystery, with multiple factors–warmer weather, invasive plants, agricultural practices–at play.

Even as these tiny organisms increase in all the wrong places on our side of the pond, in the UK, topsoil feeders are beginning to disappear, threatening the island’s agriculture. Worms, carbon, and our global food supply are all part of a delicate ecosystem that may slowly be unraveling if we don’t step up to figure out why.