IFAS News

University of Florida

UF/IFAS Celebrates Arbor Day with an art contest in Seffner

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Environment, Extension, Forestry, IFAS

A pond at the UF/IFAS Santa Fe Beef Teaching Unit.  Photo taken 09-24-15.

GAINESVILLE, Fla.— Arbor Day is approaching and Seffner, Florida, residents are geared up to celebrate with an Arbor Day mail art contest presented by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Hillsborough County.

National Arbor Day, April 29, is a time for the global community to come together and celebrate the importance of trees by planting new ones and taking care of the trees already in existence. Trees play an essential part in the ecosystem because they provide clean air and water as well as slow climate change. They also prevent species loss and alleviate poverty and hunger.

This year’s Arbor Day theme for the mail art contest is titled “I appreciate trees because…” Contestants will submit their art, along with their name, age and number, to the Extension office for a chance to be one of three winners. The categories are divided by three age groups: child, youth and adult. Three winners will receive a tree planting kit worth $100, and their art work will be displayed in the lobby of the UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County office.

The winners from each age group will be chosen before Arbor Day, and they must be present at Kerby’s Nursery on April 29 at 6 p.m. to receive their prizes.

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By: Brinkley Clark, 954-600-8257, brinkleycclark@ufl.edu

Source: Nicole Pinson, 813-744-5519, nicolepinson@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS researcher: Signs can help conserve natural resources in urban neighborhoods

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Extension, Families and Consumers, Green Living

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher wants to help you engage your neighbors to conserve urban biodiversity.

Mark Hostetler, a UF/IFAS professor of wildlife ecology and conservation, sees educational signs in neighborhoods as a way to nudge people to change their landscape practices, among other activities.

“Such signs can help homeowners understand ways to manage their homes, yards and neighborhoods in a more sustainable way,” Hostetler said.

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UF/IFAS scientists closer to finding key to converting algae to biofuel

Topic(s): Biofuels, Conservation, Environment, IFAS, Research

Horticulture Professor Balasubramanian Rathinasabapathi (Saba). Experiments, beaker, laboratory. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers may have found a key to converting algae to fuel.

The scientists have found what researchers call a “transcription factor,” called ROC40. Bala Rathinasabapathi, a UF/IFAS professor of horticultural sciences, likened a transcription factor’s role in controlling the expression of many genes inside the algae cells to a policeman controlling a large crowd. To draw lipids out of algae, scientists must starve the algae of nitrogen. Among the hundreds of proteins modulated by nitrogen starvation, the synthesis of ROC40 was the most induced when the cells made the most oil. The high induction of that protein suggested to scientists that it could be playing an important biological role, said Elton Gonçalves, a former UF/IFAS doctoral student in the plant molecular and cellular biology program. In fact, the team’s research showed that ROC40 helps control lipid production when the algal cells were starved of nitrogen.

“Our discovery about the ROC40 protein suggests that it may be increasing the expression of genes involved in the synthesis of oil in microalgae,” Rathinasabapathi said. “Such information is of great importance for the development of superior strains of algae for biofuel production,” Gonçalves said. “We conducted this research due to the great socioeconomic importance of developing renewable sources of fuels as alternatives for petroleum-based fuels for future generations. In order to advance the production of algal biofuels into a large-scale, competitive scenario, it is fundamental that the biological processes in these organisms are well understood.”

Rathinasabapathi said this information is valuable for the future for engineering algae so it overproduces oil without starving the algae of nitrogen.

Lipids from microalgae provide an excellent renewable source for biofuels. The algae grow quickly, tolerate extreme weather conditions and do not pose the same issues as biofuel crops that are grown both for fuel and food.

The rub was if algae are deprived of nitrogen, the cells become stressed and begin to produce lipids, but their growth rate slows. And if alga is going to become a commercially viable fuel source, scientists must ensure that not only can it produce as much oil as possible, but also that it can grow as fast as possible.

Rathinasabapathi and Gonçalves co-authored the study, which has been accepted for publication in The Plant Journal. Other collaborators were Sixue Chen, an associate professor of biology and faculty director of the UF proteomics and mass spectrometry, part of the Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research; Jodie Johnson, an assistant scientist at the mass spectrometry facility at UF and Takuya Matsuo, an assistant professor at Nagoya University in Japan.

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Caption: UF/IAFS Horticulture Professor Balasubramanian Rathinasabapathi, seen here working in his Gainesville lab, has found what could be a big key to converting microalgae to biofuel. He and former doctoral student Elton Gonçalves found that the transcription factor ROC40 helps control lipid production when the algal cells were starved of nitrogen.

Credit: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS photography.

By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Sources: Bala Rathinasabapathi, 352-273-4847, brath@ufl.edu

Elton Gonçalves, 352-301-6049, egoncalves@newmexicoconsortium.org

Researcher: Birds and gators help each other in Florida’s wetlands

Topic(s): Agriculture, Aquaculture, Conservation, Environment, IFAS, Research
An alligator leaps out of the water at Paynes Prairie.

An alligator leaps out of the water at Paynes Prairie. (Tyler Lennon Jones)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Birds and alligators may not seem to be the likeliest of friends, but their interactions help both species to survive in Florida wetlands, according to research by scientists with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“We have known for some time that ibises, storks, spoonbills and herons seem to always have alligators underneath their nests.  Alligators are serving as nest protectors – keeping raccoons out of the colony, which are otherwise devastating nest predators,” said Peter Frederick, a professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation.

In the most recent research, graduate student Lucas Nell tells the story from the alligator’s perspective. Birds typically hatch one to two more chicks than they can actually provide food for, and this means that one or two usually die at some point, he explained.  “Many of the dead chicks end up in the water, and their potential contribution as alligator food is substantial. In fact, we estimate that in years with especially high bird nesting, most of the breeding female alligators in the Everglades could be supported during the four–month dry season by dropped chicks alone,” Nell said.

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Massive study shows climate change rapidly warming world’s lakes, UF/IFAS professor says

Topic(s): Conservation, Environment, Green Living, IFAS, Pollution, Research

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Click photo for larger image; photo cutline at bottom of page.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Climate change is rapidly warming lakes around the world, threatening freshwater supplies and ecosystems, according to a new study spanning six continents.

More than 60 scientists took part in the research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and announced today at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The study authors include Karl Havens, director of the Florida Sea Grant program and a professor with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The full study, titled, “Rapid and highly variable warming of lake surface waters around the globe,” is available free of charge here, or at the following link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2015GL066235/full.

The study showed that lakes are warming an average of 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit each decade. That’s greater than the warming rate of either the oceans or the atmosphere, and it could have profound effects, scientists say.

At the current rate, algal blooms, which can ultimately rob water of oxygen, are projected to increase 20 percent in lakes over the next century. Algal blooms that are toxic to fish and other animals would increase by 5 percent. And these rates imply that emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide, will increase 4 percent over the next decade.

“Lakes are critically important to people, because they are sources of drinking water, irrigation water and fisheries,” said Havens, an ecologist with the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation. (more …)

UF/IFAS hosting Florida Agricultural Policy Outlook Conference in January

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, Economics, Environment, IFAS, RECs, Safety

A man checks fertilizer levels on a tractor on a farm. Farm equipment, fertilization, agriculture, food crops. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

APOPKA, Fla. — Florida agriculture and food industries are among the largest economic contributors in the state. Agricultural producers manage 9.5 million acres, growing more than 300 commodities, including everything from citrus and cows to peanuts and potatoes. Agricultural products are shipped to national and international markets.

On January 28, some of the state’s top agriculture thinkers will gather at the University of Florida’s Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka for the Florida Agricultural Policy Outlook Conference scheduled for 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.  Cost is $50 and includes a catered lunch. The event is organized by the UF Food and Resource Economics Department, under the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. (more …)

UF/IFAS study: Snail kites’ affinity for home leaves them in more peril

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

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The endangered snail kite’s affinity for its birthplace can come back to haunt the bird, leaving it in more peril, according to a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study.

Snail kites are important for at least two reasons: Bird enthusiasts flock to see them in their natural habitat, so they’re a bit of a tourist magnet. Secondly, wildlife managers use the snail kite as a barometer for conservation actions to preserve the Everglades, said Robert Fletcher, a UF/IFAS associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation.

The population of snail kites declined from about 3,500 to about 700 from 1999 through 2008. The bird has bounced back a bit, to about 1,700 birds in 2014, mostly in the lake habitats to the north of the Everglades.

Because of the snail kite’s dwindling population, Fletcher led a 17-year study into dispersal patterns of the federally endangered bird. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, spans the years 1997 to 2013.

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Irrigation method saves 50 percent of water needed for potato growth

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, Economics, IFAS, Research, Weather

 

 

 

Citra, Pivot irrigation watering fields. UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers have found an irrigation method that uses 50 percent less water than traditional systems to grow potatoes – an important finding for the $131 million-a-year Florida crop.

The system is called “hybrid center pivot irrigation.” With this method, about two-thirds of the water used to help grow potatoes is sprayed from above ground, similar to natural rainfall, and about one-third comes from under the ground – a traditional method known as “seepage irrigation.”

UF/IFAS Assistant Professor Guodong “David” Liu led a group of UF/IFAS researchers in testing the impact of hybrid center pivot irrigation on soil moisture and temperature at a Manatee County, Florida potato farm.

The method saved about 55 percent of water in a three-year trial at the farm. Additionally, researchers found no loss in crop yield using less water. Liu said he now is convincing growers to use center pivot irrigation with fertigation, in which all the water comes from above-ground sprinklers. Scientists say they may save one third more water.

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Hulcr selected to win UF/IFAS’ Richard L. Jones research award

Topic(s): Announcements, Biocontrols, Conservation, Environment, IFAS, Pests, Research

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Jiri Hulcr

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A UF/IFAS forest entomologist who – among other activities – is working to help stop pests that sicken trees, has been selected to receive the Richard L. Jones Award for promising research at UF/IFAS.

The 2016 award goes to Jiri Hulcr. It is presented by the UF/IFAS dean for research and director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station to an outstanding early career scientist. Like previous winners, Hulcr will receive the award at the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station Annual Awards Reception in May 2016.

The recipient gets a one-time $2,500 annual salary supplement and a $2,500 grant to support his or her research.

Hulcr, an assistant professor with a dual appointment in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation and the Department of Entomology and Nematology, joined UF/IFAS in 2012.

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Saving green: UF/IFAS computer program saves nurseries water, plants and money

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Economics, Environment, Families and Consumers, IFAS, Lawn & Garden, New Technology, Research

 

Poinsettia. Rapid urban growth in Florida and the Southeast creates a huge demand for a wide range of container-grown ornamental plants and trees for residential and commericial landscapes.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A web-based irrigation system developed by researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences saved 21 percent in water use without reducing growth of container-grown landscape plants, a new study shows.

While UF/IFAS scientists say a Virginia nursery is the only one utilizing the system so far, they hope similar businesses take advantage of the software, so they can reap its benefits in saved water and money. For now, scientists are interested in the irrigation needs of container-grown plants such as anise, gardenias, azaleas, junipers, roses and more.

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