Goats better than herbicides, new study


This video is called common reed (Phragmites australis).

From Duke University in the USA:

Goats better than chemicals for curbing invasive marsh grass

18 hours ago

Herbivores, not herbicides, may be the most effective way to combat the spread of one of the most invasive plants now threatening East Coast salt marshes, a new Duke University-led study finds.

Phragmites australis, or the common reed, is a rapid colonizer that has overrun many coastal wetlands from New England to the Southeast. A non-native perennial, it can form dense stands of grass up to 10 feet high that block valuable shoreline views of the water, kill off native grasses, and alter marsh function.

Land managers traditionally have used chemical herbicides to slow phragmites’ spread but with only limited and temporary success.

Now, field experiments by researchers at Duke and six other U.S. and European universities have identified a more sustainable, low-cost alternative: goats.

“We find that allowing controlled grazing by goats or other livestock in severely affected marshes can reduce the stem density of phragmites cover by about half in around three weeks,” said Brian R. Silliman, lead author of the new study and Rachel Carson associate professor of marine conservation biology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“The goats are likely to provide an effective, sustainable and much more affordable way of mowing down the invasive grass and helping restore lost ocean views,” he said.

In fenced-in test plots at the USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, Silliman and his colleagues found that a pair of the hungry herbivores could reduce phragmites cover from 94 percent to 21 percent, on average, by the end of the study. Separate trials showed that horses and cows would also readily eat the invasive grass.

In addition to restoring views, the controlled grazing allowed native plant species to re-establish themselves in the test plots over time. The native species diversity index increased five-fold.

“For more than two decades, we’ve declared major chemical and physical warfare on this grass, using all the latest manmade weapons,” Silliman said. “We’ve used helicopters to spray it with herbicides and bulldozers to remove its roots. More often than not, however, it returns.

“In this study, we show that sustainable, low-cost rotational livestock grazing can suppress the unwanted tall grass and favor a more diverse native plant system,” he said.

Silliman said the re-emergence of native marsh plants could happen even faster and be more sustained if managers combine grazing with the selective use of herbicides to eradicate any remaining phragmites and then re-plant native species in its place.

The research findings appear this week in the open-access online journal PeerJ.

“This could be a win-win-win-win situation,” Silliman said. Marshes win because native diversity and function is largely restored. Farmers benefit because they receive payment for providing the livestock and they gain access to free pasture land. Managers win because control costs are reduced. Communities and property owners win because valuable and pleasing water views are brought back.

The approach has been used for nearly 6,000 years in parts of Europe and recently has been successfully tested on small patches of heavily phragmites-invaded marshes in New York, he notes. “Now, it just has to be tested on a larger spatial scale.”

The only drawback, he added, is that “people have to be okay with having goats in their marsh for a few weeks or few months in some years. It seems like a fair trade-off to me.”

LSU ecologist James Cronin and colleague Laura Meyerson from the University of Rhode Island conducted an ambitious large-scale study on the native and invasive species of reed, Phragmites australis, in North America and Europe funded by the National Science Foundation. They found that the intensity of plant invasions by non-native species can vary considerably with changes in latitude. Read more here.

Flowering plants after dinosaur extinction


This video is called Angiosperm (flowering plant) Life Cycle.

From Smithsonian.com in the USA:

Flowering Plants Appeared in Forest Canopies Just a Few Million Years After Dinosaurs Went Extinct

A new study gives scientists some more insight into the weird history of flowering plants

By Mary Beth Griggs

Taking a minute to smell the flowers isn’t that hard nowadays, but angiosperms (a.k.a. flowering plants) weren’t always as ubiquitous as they are now. They appeared rather suddenly in the fossil record, definitively showing up around 132 million years ago. Their sudden appearance has puzzled scientists from Darwin on to the present day, and while today we understand a bit more about how they diversified, scientists are still learning new things about their history.

In a new study published in Geology, scientists think that they’ve figured out another piece of the angiosperm puzzle. Researchers looked at the patterns of leaf veins of flowering plants in tropical forests in Panama and a temperate forest in Maryland. They looked at the leaves of 132 species, reaching the top of the forest canopy with a 131-foot tall crane, and also taking a look at the leaves that had fallen to the forest floor. Leaves that originated at the very top of the trees tended to have a denser collection of veins than the ones further down the tree trunk.

The scientists then compared the patterns found on the leaves in the forests to leaves found in the fossil record, and discovered that flowering plants had reached the heights of the forest canopy around 58 million years ago, during the Paleocene, just a few million years after the dinosaurs went extinct.

Bald eagles in the USA, where to see them


This video is called American Bald Eagle.

From Discovery News in the USA:

Endangered Species

Bald Eagle Spotting: Top Spots

Dec 27, 2013 12:43 PM ET // by Tim Wall

Forty years ago, the Endangered Species Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. The act’s authors sought to protect animals, plants and other wildlife from extinction caused by “economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation,” in the words of the Act.

One symbol of the United States, the bald eagle, provides an example of how a change to the economy saved an icon of North America.

DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, weakened eagle and other bird egg shells so much that the eggs would collapse under the mother. The chemical was introduced in the 1940s and already had decimated bird populations by the early 1960s.

NEWS: Bald Eagle Nestlings Contaminated by Chemicals

In 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the pesticide. The removal of DDT from the market allowed eagle eggs to regain their strength, and the raptors began a recovery.

Bald eagles soared off of the Endangered Species List in 2007. Although off the list, the birds are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

LIST: Animals Back From the Brink

An eagle-watching trip could be a thrilling way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act and the success of bald eagles.

From coast to coast, National Wildlife Refuges offer winter-long opportunities to observe the raptors, along with special events.

The USFWS presents a cross-country list of these eagle adventures in Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah, California, Oregon and Washington. Here are a few highlights:

Maryland: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Eagle Festival March 15, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The festival is a free way to see more than 200 eagles overwintering in the refuge, the largest population on the East Coast, north of Florida.

Illinois: Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Eagle Watch Jan. 18-19, 25-26 at  8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Reservations are required for this guided van trip to see eagle nests.

Missouri: Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge Open all winter. A 1.5-mile trail offers views of hundreds of eagles.

Oregon: Winter Wings Festival in Klamath Falls Feb. 13-16. Sessions on bald eagles and other raptors are featured events at this avian extravaganza.

The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99% of the more than 2,140 species it currently protects: here.

West Nile Virus Behind Utah Bald Eagle Deaths: here.

Good malaria news


This video is called New malaria vaccine ‘highly effective’ in tests.

From Nature:

Zapped malaria parasite raises vaccine hopes

Maverick malaria vaccine achieves 100% protection using parasites from irradiated mosquitoes.

08 August 2013

A malaria vaccine has become the first to provide 100% protection against the disease, confounding critics and far surpassing any other experimental malaria vaccine tested. It will now be tested further in clinical trials in Africa.

The results are important because they demonstrate for the first time the concept that a malaria vaccine can provide a high level of protection, says Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, adding that the findings are cause for “cautious optimism”.

No effective malaria vaccine is available at present. The World Health Organization has set a target to develop a malaria vaccine with 80% efficacy by 2025, but until now, says Fauci, “we have not even gotten anywhere near that level of efficacy.”

Scientists had previously been sceptical of the vaccine because producing it required overcoming massive logistical hurdles. The vaccine — called PfSPZ because it is made from sporozoites (SPZ), a stage in the life cycle of the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) — uses a weakened form of the whole parasite to invoke an immune response.

In the phase I safety trial, reported today in Science1, the six subjects given five doses intravenously were 100% protected from later challenge by bites of infectious mosquitoes, whereas five of six unvaccinated controls developed malaria — as did three of nine people given only four doses of the vaccine.

PfSPZ was developed by Sanaria, a company based in Rockville, Maryland, and led by Stephen Hoffman, a veteran malaria researcher who also led the PfSPZ clinical trial. Most malaria-vaccine candidates are recombinant-subunit vaccines containing just a handful of parasite proteins, but Hoffman decided to test the whole-sporozoite vaccine on the basis of past experiments dating back to the 1970s showing that strong and long-lived protection could be obtained by exposing volunteers to thousands of bites from irradiated infected mosquitoes2.

That the vaccine works so well is a “pivotal success,” says Stefan Kappe, a malaria researcher at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute in Washington.”The trial results constitute the most important advance in malaria vaccine development since the first demonstration of protection with radiation attenuated sporozoite immunization by mosquito bite in the 70s.”

Against the odds

But to make PfSPZ was challenging. Sanaria succeeded in raising mosquitoes in sterile conditions on an industrial scale, feeding them blood infected with the malaria parasite and then irradiating them to weaken the parasite so that it can still infect people but not cause disease.

Billions of parasites were then harvested from the mosquitoes’ salivary glands, purified and cryopreserved. Many researchers were highly sceptical that sporozoites could be mass-produced in a way that passed the strict quality and safety standards needed for human medicines, notes Fauci. “To my amazement, Hoffman did it,” he adds.

Hoffman says that he hopes to have a vaccine licensed within four years. The trial now needs to be repeated and extended in regions where malaria is rampant to test whether it provides protection against different strains of the parasite than that used in the vaccine, and to see how it performs in different age groups, including young children. The first trials will be carried out at the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania.

Piggybacking infrastructure

Even if the vaccine is shown to be highly effective in the field, logistical difficulties might limit its applicability. In mass vaccination campaigns, hundreds of people are vaccinated within minutes, so vaccines are usually given orally or by injection into or just under the skin. Intravenous injection is more cumbersome. “It’s very unlikely to be deployable in infants or young children,” argues Adrian Hill, a malaria researcher at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, UK.

In 2011, a clinical trial of PfSPZ given under the skin reported disappointing results, protecting only two of 80 subjects3. But the need to deliver the vaccine intravenously “is not a show-stopper”, says Hoffman, noting that the volume of vaccine —  0.5 millilitres — is tiny and requires a tiny syringe, although the company is exploring ways to improve the intravenous delivery system.

Another logistical hurdle, says Hill, is that the vaccine must be kept frozen in liquid nitrogen vapour phase. Hoffman argues, however, that the vaccine can piggyback on veterinary infrastructure in places that use liquid nitrogen to store and transport veterinary vaccines and semen for artificial insemination of livestock. “If you can carry semen into the deep Saharan belt and remote areas, why can’t you do that for a human vaccine?” says Marcel Tanner, director of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland, which is a sponsor of the trial in Tanzania.

“Which of the logistical challenges can be managed and which will become show-stoppers can be difficult to predict,” says David Kaslow, director of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative in Washington, DC, a public–private partnership for malaria-vaccine development.

Kappe hopes the trial results will encourage funders to invest more in optimizing this vaccine approach. “If we were talking about an HIV vaccine, there would be no question about investing in this type of success,” he says.

Nature
doi:10.1038/nature.2013.13536

References

  1. Seder, R. A. et al. Science http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1241800 (2013).
  2. Hoffman, S. L. et al. J. Infect. Dis. 185, 1155–1164 (2002).
  3. Epstein, J. E. et al. Science 334, 475–480 (2011).

See also here.

United States governmental licence plate spying


This video is called “You are being tracked” — ACLU reveals mass license plate surveillance.

By Eric London in the USA:

US government using license plates to track movements of millions

18 July 2013

A report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday [ http://www.aclu.org/alpr ] details an immense operation through which nearly 1 billion license plate records of hundreds of millions of drivers are tracked and huge databases are amassed, providing the American government with access to the history and recent whereabouts of the majority of the US population.

For years, a network of federal security agencies, local police departments and private companies have been using automatic license plate readers on police cruisers, in parking lots, at traffic intersections—even through smartphone apps—to photograph cars and their drivers and to record license plate numbers with the matching time, date and location.

“More and more cameras, longer retention periods, and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives,” the report says.

“The systems can also plot all vehicles at a particular location, such as the location where a crime—or a political protest—took place” through a procedure called “geofencing,” whereby “law enforcement or private companies can construct a virtual fence around a designated geographical area, to identify each vehicle entering that space.”

The use of this technology for such authoritarian procedures gives the lie to the claims of the government and security apparatus that the purpose of the license-tracking program is to stop crime.

In Maryland, for example, where license plate trackers stored over 85 million license plate reads in 2012 alone, only 0.2 percent of those license plates were matched to any suspected unlawful activity. Of the 0.2 percent, 97 percent of those were for violation of state registration or smog check programs.

However, the data on the whereabouts of all 85 million plates in Maryland is stored in a state fusion center, the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC), which is then shared with a regional database called the National Capital Region License Plate Reader Project (NCR). According to the NCR, “any law enforcement agency” can take license plate data and “retain it indefinitely.”

Regional databases similar to the NCR exist across the country to help circumvent individual state limitations on the length of time for which license plate and travel data can be held. Though not referenced in the ACLU report, the aggregated license plate data from all state and regional databases are likely compiled and stored indefinitely by the National Security Agency alongside the DNA and ID photograph records and Internet and phone communications of the vast majority of people in the US.

At a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, Deputy Director of the National Security Agency John Inglis admitted that the depth of the NSA surveillance program goes far beyond what the government had previously admitted: here.

USA: How Corporations and Law Enforcement Are Spying on Environmentalists: here.