Monday, June 23, 2014

Do the Rumble-Rump with Peacock Spiders

My latest blog piece is fluff, but still pretty and interesting.
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/06/23/do-the-rumble-rump-with-peacock-spiders/
The highlight (other than pics and videos) is that the researchers of one study I refer to documented several key dance moves, including "crunch-rolls," "grind-revs", and "rumble-rumps." And yes, I already have worked out the human equivalent of each, and stand ready to shoot the video once we have critical mass.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Global Agriculture Trends: Are We Actually Using Less Land?

A colleague of mine recently alluded to the "rapidly accelerating conversion of natural habitat for agriculture," which got me curious how fast agricultural area was really growing globally. I was pretty surprised to find out that it is actually shrinking! This doesn't mean conversion isn't happening, but it still makes for a pretty interesting story. Read about it here:
http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/06/18/global-agriculture-land-sustainability-deforestation-foodsecurity/

Here is the map showing where ag land is expanding and where it is contracting:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Is pollen flammable?

A few weeks ago, there was a post on XCKD's "what if" asking what would happen if all of the pollen on earth was ignited: http://what-if.xkcd.com/97/

As evidence that pollen is actually flammable, the author pointed to youtube videos labeles "burning pollen" but which are actually not of pollen at all. Rather, they are the fluff from cottonwood seeds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKra62IC-_w

This got me curious: is real pollen also flammable? It is denser so I figured it wouldn't naturally catch on fire to the same degree, but I still wanted to see for myself.

I gathered up a ton of pollen (from red flower carpet rose), and held a lit match against it.


 I did the same thing with sawdust as a reference, as I just had them in a little pile on top of concrete (rather than trying to ignite with a specific dispersal pattern in the air which would have been harder and more dangerous). The idea is that sawdust is accepted to be flammable (or inflammable if you like), even though it may not catch on fire the same way a piece of paper would depending on the conditions. But I figured this would be comparable to what is already online with cottonwood fluff, but for actual pollen (e.g. if a bunch of pollen fell from the flowers and accumulated on the ground). Note that oak catkins or other flower structures don't count as pollen either.

I found that pollen is roughly as flammable as sawdust, perhaps a bit more. Here are the videos:

Sawdust:

Pollen:

Here's what the pollen looked like at the end:

Monday, May 12, 2014

Measuring sustainabiilty in agriculture - focusing on outcomes

A white paper I wrote (along with my colleagues Tim Boucher and Samantha Atwood) is now available at:
http://www.nature.org/science-in-action/science-features/measuring-sustainability-in-agriculture-focusing-on-outcomes.xml



The basic premise is that the measure whether or not agriculture is truly sustainable we have to get past just measuring practices (what we do, such as conservation tillage or riparian buffers) and move to measuring outcomes (water quality & quantity, soil quality, etc.). We review the literature and suggest several metrics for environmental variables, although we do not include agronomic variables such as yield which are part of overall sustainability.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Does eating more veggies use more water?

I got an interesting question via "Ask the Conservationist" at work:
"Barbara Wimmel of Freiburg, Germany writes: As I have been a vegetarian for many years, one question has been on my mind for a long time. We are told incessantly to eat lots of fruit and vegetables: But isn't it true that (most? all? which?) vegetables can be grown only while needing a lot of water (and this often seems to mean irrigation)? If so what possible solution(s) exist for this problem?"

See the answer here: http://bit.ly/1ieGfLw

Friday, September 20, 2013

Is “Ugly” Produce the Next Big Thing at the Farmers’ Market?


The discovery of some funny-looking unsprayed apples at the farmer's market recently (which I'd never had before) inspired me to write a blog post about them. The basic question is: if we can get so excited about funny-looking heirloom varieties, can we make unsprayed produce "cool" as well?
http://blog.nature.org/science/2013/09/20/ugly-produce/