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‘Little janitor’ merits attention in springs’ health debate, UF/IFAS research shows

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Research, Uncategorized

Elimia

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A small, slow moving resident who enjoys a vegetative diet and keeps things tidy may be the overlooked player in public debates over Florida’s ailing freshwater springs, University of Florida researchers say.

North Florida has the world’s highest concentration of large freshwater springs. For decades, crystal-clear water bubbling from the ground has driven tourism in the form of scuba divers, canoeists, boaters and swimmers, but today, many of those springs don’t bubble like they used to; green scum often obliterates the view.

Although the blame for algae-choked springs is often pinned on excess nitrate, the scientists say the absence of algae-eating native freshwater snails known as Elimia — which UF researcher Dina Liebowitz calls the “little janitor of the springs” — may be a key factor.

Nitrate, which has gotten the lion’s share of attention in springs-health discussions, enters the aquifer and emerges at the springs from municipal sewage treatment and disposal, agricultural and residential fertilizer use, livestock farms and residential septic systems.

Matthew Cohen, a UF associate professor and Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member who specializes in ecohydrology, says while controlling nitrate is a worthy goal, doing that alone “will not be enough to restore springs ecology.”

Cohen’s former doctoral student, Liebowitz, now a postdoctoral researcher at the California Ocean Science Trust, spent nearly six years studying the springs. She and colleagues collected samples at 11 springs with high and low levels of nitrates, oxygen and algae.

In all, they took hundreds of samples from three parts of each spring, at different times of the year, she said.

Among the study’s strongest findings, outlined in a paper posted online this month by the journal Freshwater Biology, was a strong negative correlation between snails and algae, Liebowitz said: Where they found more snails, in general, there was less algae.

And their later experiments found that the snails could keep algae from accumulating in the springs.

That doesn’t mean that other factors aren’t part of the equation, she said, “but it suggests pretty strongly that snails are an important factor in keeping algae levels down.”

The researchers say, however, the ecosystem may resist restoration if the amount of algae present is more than they can graze back to low levels.

That means even if snail populations bounce back, mature algae would need to be cleared for snails to keep the young algae in check, she said.

While snail population declines have been well-documented in the southeastern United States, there are only a few older studies Liebowitz could use as a baseline, but her study found far fewer snails than were reported before.

Studies suggest pesticides and herbicides could be partly to blame for the snails’ decline, she said.

The researchers also examined whether oxygen levels at locations in and near springs had any correlation with snail population and found a connection. Water oxygen levels can drop during drought or when humans are pumping out the “new” water at the top of the aquifer, she said.

Besides Cohen and Liebowitz, the research team included former UF postdoctoral researcher James Heffernan; Lawrence Korhnak, a UF senior biological scientist and Tom Frazer, director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment.

The National Science Foundation funded the study.

Contacts

       Writer: Mickie Anderson, mickiea@ufl.edu 

       Sources: Matthew Cohen, mjc@ufl.edu

Dina Liebowitz, dina.liebowitz@gmail.com

 

Photo: The Elimia snail is an unheralded player in the health of North Central Florida springs, UF/IFAS researchers have found. Photograph courtesy of Chris Lukhaup.

 

 

UF/IFAS study: When it comes to gluten-free diets, unfounded beliefs abound

Topic(s): Families and Consumers, IFAS, Nutrition, Research

Gluten free food products.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – While necessary for some, many people eat gluten-free diets because they believe they’ll gain certain health benefits, but these beliefs are not all supported by research, a University of Florida nutrition expert says.

Those with celiac disease, or about 1 percent of the U.S. population, must follow a gluten-free diet because it’s the only treatment for their condition, said Karla Shelnutt, a UF assistant professor in family, youth and community sciences. But gluten-free diets can lack essential nutrients if a person does not eat a balanced diet and/or take a multivitamin supplement.

Unlike their conventional counterparts, refined gluten-free foods, for the most part, are not enriched or fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.

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UF/FAS and Florida A&M announce innovative farmer awards

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Crops, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Livestock

Gainesville, Fla. ─ The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida A&M University’s Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Focus Team are pleased to announce the three winners of the Innovative Farmer Award for this year’s conference.

The Innovative Farmer Award recognizes farmers and ranchers who are innovative leaders and excel in making their farming systems more profitable over the long term, using farming practices that enhance natural resources, leading or participating in activities that support viable communities and providing outreach and/or education about sustainable agriculture ideas and practices to others.

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UF/IFAS students, administrators honored at ASABE conference  

Topic(s): Honors and Appointments

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Dorota Haman, chairman of UF/IFAS’ Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, has been elected a 2014 fellow by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and was inducted at the society’s annual meeting last week.

ASABE defines a fellow as a member of unusual professional distinction, with outstanding and extraordinary qualifications and experience in, or related to, the field of agricultural, food, or biological systems engineering. They have a minimum of 20 years of active practice in or related to engineering and at least 20 years as an active ASABE member.

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No browning, maybe less oil with Florida’s Elkton potato

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Research

elkton 2

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new potato variety grown for use as a chip should be more marketable because it averts a process that causes the crop to brown, and may be less oily than current tubers, a University of Florida researcher says.

The Elkton potato does not succumb to internal heat necrosis, said Lincoln Zotarelli, a UF assistant horticultural sciences professor and faculty member at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The disorder is caused by high temperature and changes to soil moisture and nutrients and leaves the potato brown inside.

UF/IFAS and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists put Elkton potatoes through 19 trials, from 2003-2013, in Florida.  Numerous trials were also conducted in Maine, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The trials tested Elkton’s adaptability to soils in the those states and showed the variety exhibits characteristics growers want, said Kathleen Haynes, a research geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland.

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Animal sciences professor named College of Agricultural and Life Sciences associate dean

Topic(s): Announcements, CALS, IFAS

Joel Brendemuhl.  Professor, Animal Sciences.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A professor and assistant chairman of the Department of Animal Sciences has been named associate dean of the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Joel Brendemuhl, with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences since 1985, began work in his new role July 14, said college Dean Elaine Turner.

Brendemuhl will provide leadership for admissions, enrollment, curricula and academic program assessment in the college, also known as CALS, Turner said.

“His experience as both an undergraduate and graduate coordinator, his effectiveness as a teacher and adviser and his commitment to serving our students were key factors in his selection for this role,” Turner said. “I anticipate that he will use his experience to assist in the continuous quality improvement of all of our academic programs.” (more …)

Kids’ ‘community’ knowledge from Internet leaves UF/IFAS researcher hopeful

Topic(s): Families and Consumers, IFAS, Research

GAINESVILLE ─ Parents sometimes link the Internet to negative social behavior, but some children use the Web to learn about their communities, a new University of Florida study shows.

While most research on young people’s media use focuses on negative effects, UF Professor Rosemary Barnett sees it as a good thing.

“Two key factors to consider are the nature of the content and how it is used,” said Barnett, who teaches in the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “The ability to tap into a phenomenal amount of information so easily and quickly on a variety of topics has allowed the Internet to enhance education for children.”

After a 12-year-old Lakeland girl who endured cyber-bullying committed suicide in September 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its media exposure policy. The group now recommends children use media for entertainment no more than two hours each night. They make an exception for online homework.

While the UF/IFAS study gave clues to children’s general Internet use, it focused on how students use the Internet to learn about their communities.

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Annual conference to teach farming, livestock, local foods, more

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Crops, Economics, IFAS

2011 Small Farms Conference.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If you’re thinking of starting a small farm or want to know about the latest in local foods, organic and hydroponic production, livestock production, farmers markets and more, you might consider attending the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference.

Like last year, about 800 people are expected to attend the conference, Aug. 1-2, at Osceola Heritage Park, 1875 Silver Spur Lane in Kissimmee, said Jose Perez, small farms specialty crop statewide program coordinator and the event’s publicity chairman.

Now in its sixth year, the conference is presented by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida A&M University.

Typically, those who attend include small family, transitional, beginning and experienced farmers; allied-industry representatives; educators; researchers; policy makers; small farm commodity associations; foundations and others dedicated to strengthening Florida’s small farm community.

Ed Skvarch, commercial horticulture extension agent in St. Lucie County, said those pondering farming can learn much of its business side at the conference.

“If you’re starting a small farm, I believe it is crucial to have passion, the technical knowledge on how to grow vegetables or raise livestock and a working plan on how to grow the business,” Skvarch said. “Most beginning farmers I work with have the passion and possess some knowledge of growing vegetables; however, what they lack is a plan on how to grow their business. All three are important.”

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