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caterpillar full

Munching bugs thwart eager trees, reducing the carbon sink

In a high carbon dioxide world, the trees would come out ahead. Except for the munching bugs. A new study published on March 2, 2015 in Nature Plants shows that hungry, plant-eating insects may limit the ability of forests to take up elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, reducing their capacity to slow human-driven climate change. The finding is significant because climate change models typically fail to consider changes in the activities of insects in the ecosystem, says Richard Lindroth, a professor of ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the leader of the study. The research suggests it's time to add insects to the models. Carbon dioxide typically makes plants grow faster and makes them more efficient in how they use nutrients. But the amount of damage caused by leaf-munching bugs in the study nearly doubled under high carbon dioxide conditions, leading to an estimated 70g of carbon-sequestering biomass lost per meter squared per year. "This is the first time, at this scale, that insects have been shown to compromise the ability of forests to take up carbon dioxide," Lindroth says. In ...
Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015
-20150303
changing-climate
10
Munching bugs thwart eager trees, reducing the carbon sink
Bockehim story feature image

To the ends of the earth

In April 2011, James Bockheim led a small team of researchers to a rocky spit of land called Cierva Point, a habitat protected by the Antarctic Treaty as a “site of special scientific interest.” Home to breeding colonies of bird species like Gentoo penguins, as well as a remarkably verdant cover of maritime plants, Cierva Point is also one of the most rapidly warming places on Earth. [caption id="attachment_16965" align="alignleft" width="300"] James Bockheim (left) in Antarctica with former graduate student Adam Beilke MS'11. They are drilling a shallow borehole in which to install instruments for measuring temperatures of "active layer" soil, which thaws and freezes.[/caption] Bockheim and his crew were beginning another field season on the Antarctic Peninsula, the long finger of rock and ice that snakes past Palmer Station, the United States’ northernmost Antarctic research station, and curls out in the Southern Ocean (see map, page 25). They’d been deposited onshore, along with their gear, by the Laurence M. Gould, a research vessel that wouldn’t return until late May. As the ship sailed back into the frigid sea, Bockheim turned his ...
Tuesday, February 17th, 2015
-20150217
changing-climate
10
To the ends of the earth
Food Systems

Efficient cows are environmentally friendly cows

Dairy farms with higher-producing cows create smaller carbon footprints and are more profitable, a win-win situation for everyone, including the cows, according to Victor E. Cabrera, a UW-Madison associate professor of dairy science. [caption id="attachment_17271" align="alignright" width="240"] Victor Cabrera[/caption] “Implementing dairy farm management strategies that increase milk production, decrease the herd replacement rate or improve reproductive efficiency can increase farm profits while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions,” says Cabrera, who is also a UW-Extension dairy systems management specialist. Using the Integrated Farm System Model (IFSM), Cabrera and Di Liang, a PhD student, tested different management strategies for a typical Wisconsin farm to see what would be the outcome regarding the economics, the net return and the environment. An IFSM simulation takes into account numerous interacting processes that include crop and pasture production, crop harvest, feed storage, grazing, feeding and manure handling. “We found that the closer a cow is to maximum milk production potential, the more efficient they are both economically and environmentally,” Cabrera says. As cows give more milk, they eat more and use more resources. However, since maintenance feed has already been accounted for, ...
Thursday, April 23rd, 2015
-20150423
food-systems
10
Efficient cows are environmentally friendly cows
Healthy Ecosystems

Using cover crops to replenish soil carbon

Traversing the landscape of the Upper Midwest, there is a high likelihood you’ll see corn fields. Lots and lots of corn fields.  Here, leftover stalks are most often plowed under the earth in late autumn, where they can replenish the ground, becoming soil organic matter. Soil organic matter is made up of partly decomposed plants, soil animals, and microbes. It’s mostly carbon, but it also includes nitrogen and other nutrients that bind together to encourage plants to take in water, while preventing both runoff and drought. [caption id="attachment_17244" align="alignright" width="300"] A field at the University of Wisconsin Arlington Agricultural Research Station.[/caption] These days, corn stalks have become more and more valuable for use as a biofuels feedstock. Farmers are now able to use leftover corn stover to produce energy and extra money. But that added value also poses a problem: if there’s no plant matter going back into the soil, how does carbon get replenished? At the University of Wisconsin Arlington Agricultural Research Station about 30 minutes north of Madison, Anna Cates is studying how to replenish, or fix, carbon into the soil by ...
Wednesday, April 15th, 2015
-20150415
healthy-ecosystems
10
Using cover crops to replenish soil carbon
Healthy Ecosystems

David Duncan: Finding quirk and charisma in microbes

David Duncan loves to think about dirt, and a quick glance at his family tree could lead one to believe he comes by it naturally. His grandfather was an agricultural extension agent and his handful of uncles includes two agronomists and an expert on fungi. But Duncan, a University of Wisconsin–Madison doctoral student in agronomy and a Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center researcher, asserts that what really pulled him into agronomy was his mother. “My interest in biology was agricultural from the get-go and I think it’s because my mom always loved the idea of having a great big garden,” Duncan says. “Early on, I learned from her that growing things was a good pursuit, something worth doing.” [caption id="attachment_17240" align="alignright" width="300"] David Duncan in his lab at the Wisconsin Energy Institute.[/caption] Duncan spent his childhood in central Wyoming, an arid region where it’s hard to grow much of anything. He recalls tending some strawberries and rhubarb with his mom, but remembers even better the summers he spent digging around in the decomposing pile of grass clippings out by the shed. “It was sort of ...
Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
-20150414
healthy-ecosystems
10
David Duncan: Finding quirk and charisma in microbes
Bioenergy and Bioproducts

Exploring bugs and bioenergy: Gina Lewin’s path to the Currie Lab

For many college students, summer provides a chance to test-drive future career paths. When Gina Lewin took advantage of such an opportunity, her test drive hit the jackpot. In the summer of 2009, Lewin participated in a National Science Foundation-funded program called Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), which invites college juniors and seniors to join research projects around the country. At the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Lewin worked in the lab of chemical and biological engineering professor Brian Pfleger. She was tasked with coaxing a bacterium to produce diesel fuel compounds. As summer progressed, Lewin’s interest in bioenergy and microbiology grew, but she also found herself falling in love with the big research campus of UW–Madison and the city that surrounds it. “The REU was my first time doing microbiology research,” Lewin says. “I had been thinking about going to graduate school since the end of my freshman year, but being here definitely cemented that interest.” [caption id="attachment_17221" align="alignright" width="300"] Ants from the Currie Lab. Photo: Wolfgang Hoffman[/caption] She applied for graduate school and joined UW–Madison’s microbiology doctoral training ...
Monday, April 6th, 2015
-20150406
bioenergy-bioproducts
10
Exploring bugs and bioenergy: Gina Lewin’s path to the Currie Lab
Health and Wellness

National leaders to visit Madison for biomedical research workshop

From Howard Temin's Nobel Prize-winning discovery of reverse transcriptase to James Thomson's isolation of viable human stem cells, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has long enjoyed distinction as a biomedical research powerhouse. Yet, years of diminishing federal funds and an increasing number of scientists seeking those funds have created a hypercompetitive atmosphere within the U.S. biomedical sciences, according to the authors of a 2014 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They assert it is stifling the creativity and risk-taking ventures that lead to breakthroughs like Temin's and Thomson's. On Saturday, April 11, authors of that article — former National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts, former president of Princeton University Shirley Tilghman, and Harvard Medical School Department of Systems Biology Chair Marc Kirschner — will be on campus for an all-day workshop aimed at giving the university community a chance to present its best ideas and suggestions for rescuing the biomedical research enterprise, both at UW-Madison and nationally. Additionally, UW-Madison alumna and former faculty member Jo Handelsman, now associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and ...
Monday, April 6th, 2015
-20150406
health-wellness
10
National leaders to visit Madison for biomedical research workshop