Monday, May 21, 2012

Biodiversity Links Between the Land & Sea

This chain is retained in less disturbed native forest but its integrity is compromised in human-altered palm forest. Bar graphs comparing processes in native (N) and palm (P) forests (mean ± SE) indicate that reductions in native tree abundance (A) reduce seabird abundance (B), which diminish the contribution of seabird derived nutrient subsidies to terrestrial ecosystems (C,D), which severely impair the movement of nutrients to the marine environment (E), reducing zooplankton abundance (F), and ultimately eliminating manta ray (Manta birostris) utilization of native forest coastlines (G). Delta values depict the difference between mean δ15N of native forest and palm forest material (Δδ15N = δ15NN − δ15NP). Positive delta values measured at multiple points along this lengthy interaction chain reveal that taxa in native forest zones are causally linked to one another via dependency upon isotopically elevated seabird derived nutrients. 

So read the description under the animated illustration depicting the interactions of seemingly unrelated sea and land ecosystems which for the large part go un-noticed. The article may be found here under this Stanford University Link:
Stanford scientists document fragile land-sea ecological chain 
Intricate, often invisible chains of life are threatened with extinction around the world. A new study quantifies one of the longest such chains ever documented.
Some excerpts from the article in how these developments came about:
This past fall, McCauley, a graduate student, and DeSalles, an undergraduate, were in remote Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific tracking manta rays' movements for a predator-prey interaction study. Swimming with the rays and charting their movements with acoustic tags, McCauley and DeSalles noticed the graceful creatures kept returning to certain islands' coastlines. Meanwhile, graduate student Hillary Young was studying palm tree cultivation's effect on native habitats nearby and wondering how the impact on bird communities would play out. 
Over meals and sunset chats at the small research station, McCauley, DeSalles, Young and other scientists discussed their work and traded theories about their observations. "As the frequencies of these different conversations mixed together, the picture of what was actually happening out there took form in front of us," McCauley said. 
By way of comparison, researcher Robert Dunbar, a Stanford Woods Institute senior fellow, recalled the historical chain effects of increasing demands on water from Central California's rivers. When salmon runs in these rivers slowed from millions of fish each year to a trickle, natural and agricultural land systems lost an important source of marine-derived fertilizer. These lost subsidies from the sea are now replaced by millions of dollars' worth of artificial fertilizer applications. "Humans can really snip one of these chains in half," Dunbar said. 
Incredibly, these connections were only recognized by chance while various researchers of differing backgrounds were conversing one day about varying areas of study and research  in their respective fields of interest. Sometimes all it takes are intelligent individuals whose love for the natural world which far out ways any selfish ambition for notoriety or those obsessed with corporate/academic career moves bringing their collective heads together and sharing in conversations of Field Observations gets much us further ahead in our understanding of the natural world.
Ecological Links Between Land and Sea.
 Credit: David Spiller
"The researchers found a link between replacing native trees with non-native palms and the health of the manta ray population off Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific."
 "Through analysis of nitrogen isotopes, animal tracking and field surveys, the researchers showed that replacing native trees with non-native palms led to about five times fewer roosting seabirds (they seemed to dislike palms' simple and easily wind-swayed canopies), which led to fewer bird droppings to fertilize the soil below, fewer nutrients washing into surrounding waters, smaller and fewer plankton in the water and fewer hungry manta rays cruising the coastline."
These links and the ultimate damage with which results can be further appreciated when one looks at larger areas of disturbance in places link MalaysiaIndonesia and Borneo where large Palm Oil Plantations have replaced extremely biodiverse rain forests. The obsession with several European Union countries to show the world just how Eco-Green they are give us companies like Blue NG Power which I saw featured on a documentary here about a year ago. Agrofuels or Biofuels seem to be the Public Relations marketing campaign of choice for many of these companies. I remember the journalists trying to get interviews with the officials at some of these companies to comment on the destruction of extremely rich biodiverse ecosystems and the replacement with monoculture crops like Palm Oil Plantations'We Have No Comment - We're Just Trying to Do Our Part' was the response. How Pathetic.

Here in Sweden their Ethanol Fuels Program was big News when I first came here, not so much because of it's wonderful clean prospects for Swedish Automobile Drivers as it was for all the protests going on down in Ghana, West Africa. You see, like Germany, Sweden has no means or room for producing it's own biofuel, or in this case high sugar content crops for Ethyl Alcohol. So land was being acquired (30,000+ hectors) to grow sugarcane in Ghana by a Brazilian Contractor, Northern Sugar Resources Ltd . But I wondered why those Ghana citizens were protesting so loudly ? That much land taken out of any future food production and turned into biofuel for some industrial country 1000s of miles away hurts the average Ghanian food consumer with much higher prices. In fact they have been criticized for only being concerned about their own Industrial Nation needs as the article brought out:
"Biofuels were developed as part of plans to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, held responsible for global warming, but since in some cases they take up land that would otherwise be used for food production, they have been increasingly blamed for soaring food prices."
 "The leaders of some poor nations have accused developed countries of caring more about having fuel in their cars than about ensuring the poor have access to staple foods."
What most folks in the industrial western countries don't usual get because they are for the most part out of touch with the reality that exists in third world nations is that most any monies these folks earn goes to the purchase of food. They don't have home mortgages, car payments , etc. What made the whole mess more insulting to these people was the irresponsible comment by Svensk Etanolkemi AB (Sekab), a Swedish green fuels company, Managing Director Anders Fredriksson when he was asked about  the ethics of using land for biofuels production, Fredriksson argued that the huge swathes of land are lying unused in Africa:
"Producing ethanol is going to bring in money that can be used to develop agriculture, while Sekab is just involved in the Ghana project as a buyer, in Tanzania the company is active in ethanol production."
"Another issue is that there's going to be between 1,000 and 2,000 people employed during the project and afterwards, so it is going to support some 8,000 people, it's going to raise the economy, give them money to buy food, school their kids etc.,"   
Clearly there was something odd about his comment. He says 1000 to 2000 will be employed and have jobs to feed roughly 8000 total who are dependent on them for increased income and they will be able to purchase the food with the more money they earn. So I looked up the demographics and statistics on the country of Ghana and it's population. Unlike Sweden which has just a little over 9 million in population, Ghana is at a population of 24+ million people
for which 1000 to 2000 jobs would hardly put a dent in the economy of most of the population. However, in the interests of Public Relations and everything Eco-Green, who cares what some ignorant protesters do or don't understand ? Here are some links to the story a few years back. Judge for yourself. This is not just picking one or two particular countries, but merely an example of how many people in affluent countries are simply out of touch with the reality of the conditions experienced by other people around our globe.
Swedish drivers turn to ethanol 
(July 2007)
Biofuels 'divert water from food crops' 
(August 2007)
Sweden to import ethanol produced in Ghana 
(May 2008)
Those are just two examples, but the original story here reveals just how connected our natural world really is and the giant losses that come about by irresponsible lack of foresight, be it ignorance or having full knowledge and deliberately ignoring it anyway. In the original article of that south Pacific Atoll and the damage caused by a monocrop of Palm Trees, can you fathom the damages caused by the gross wholesale destruction of rainforests for Industrial Forestry monocropping on far larger scale operations in the few countries mentioned ? Can you imagine the damage done to those waters off the coasts of those larger countries, considering a lowly Atoll which most folks have never heard of suffered such a dramatic ecological fate ? Take a look at the vastness of the degradation in those larger land masses as compare to a small Atoll.

You can GOOGLE more pics yourself, but you may want to get a bucket in case you get sick. All of the above and more are just so a handful much the more enlightened nations of this world can pat themselves on the back for being so Eco-Green and insist others follow their superior example. On a positive note, perhaps folks here can make some personal practical applications from the top article on the inter-connectedness of the land and sea as we have never viewed it before and apply it to their own urban landscape or organic gardening. Think of practical local ways you can show a responsible viewpoint. I'm not political and truthfully have no faith in any of this world's governments or big corporations for that matter to do the right thing anyway. This post is not a slam on any one particular government or any corporation, but merely a reality check of where all countries collectively have brought our natural world to it's knees in an attempt to grow their own individual economies.


  1. Nice article here. It's happening all over. I experienced the anger first hand in Peru over American interests on their agricultural products. While it was just slightly different, it is representative of the abuse that goes on in countries that need money to feed their families. In Peru, the US takes a lot of their finest products...the best of the best....and leaves the rest behind. Essentially Peru gets the scraps or "leftovers" from their own products. This extends into Panama with coffee etc etc. Chile, for their forests in the south....who is buying that wood up? Japan. But I'm sure there are others as well.....the Mahogany trees of the Amazon....gone.....why? The US. During my work and studies abroad, I see this abuse going on everywhere....and it's disturbing. I don't know what the answer is. Again...great post!

    1. You'll find American Corporate agricultural bohemoths all over the planet with Monsanto out in front and both Political Parties championing their power grabbing sword.

      I remember the E.U. over here heavily criticizing Indonesia for destroying it's forests and monocropping. The response from the Indonesian President was - "Who are Europe to criticize anyone. They have destroyed over 70% of their forests and continue with industrial forestry ambitions. He was right of course, but still doesn't mean he should follow the same irresponsible pattern.

      Why doesn't the E.U. go after that German Bio-Diesel (Palm Oil) generating Electrical Plant that is the largest customer of Palm Oil ? Oh that's right, it's in Germany which is the most major player in the E.U.




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