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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.

 

 

Veteran UF/IFAS faculty member wins global biology award

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Conservation, Crops, Environment, IFAS

 Michael Kane award

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A 27-year University of Florida faculty member who recently received a global award for his life’s work in biology credits his colleagues and his students for his success.

Michael Kane, environmental horticulture professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,was honored in May with the 2014 Society for In Vitro Biology Lifetime Achievement Award. The SIVB fosters information exchange of scientific research on the biology of cells, tissues and organs from both plants and animals.

“My mantra has always been: It’s all about the people,” said Kane, who specializes in micropropagation, the practice of rapidly multiplying stock plant material to produce offspring plants, using modern plant tissue culture methods. “If it wasn’t for several caring professor mentors, I wouldn’t have gone on in graduate school.”

The faculty member nugget could refer to many people, but in this case it pertains partly to Toshio Murashige, a now retired botany professor at the University of California-Riverside, who gave Kane keen advice while he was a young doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island.

Plenty of Kane’s students laud their mentor, years after studying under his tutelage. Ray Gillis, a former graduate student and now laboratory director at Oglesby Plants International, wrote a letter supporting Kane to win the SIVB award.

In some of his early work in the 1980s, Kane studied how tissue-cultured, native plant species could be useful for the ecosystem restoration of phosphate-mined lands, Gillis wrote. Later, he pioneered the development of micropropagation protocols of numerous wetland and dune species indigenous to the eastern United States.

“To his credit, just developing a lab protocol was not deemed sufficient,” Gillis wrote. “He and his graduate students have taken that material generated in the laboratory and conducted extensive field studies to prove that micropropagation research has real-world application.”

Kane’s latest projects, in collaboration with his students, include growing native wetland and coastal dune plants in the lab. Those sea oats are used to preserve dunes on the Florida coast. Some of the plants are also used to preserve wetlands.  He and his students also develop procedures to grow threatened and endangered native orchids.

Kane, who came to UF in 1985 as a postdoctoral researcher and eventually a faculty member, has won numerous accolades at UF and across the country. In 2009 alone, he won the IFAS Award of Excellence for Graduate Research: Best Master’s Thesis Major Adviser, University of Florida Blue Key Distinguished Faculty Award and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Excellence in College and University Teaching in the Food and Agricultural Sciences Award.

An SIVB member for 25 years, Kane accepts praise with a shrug.

“I didn’t even know I was nominated,” he said. Kane paraphrased the famous quote from the movie, “Wayne’s World,” saying, “‘I’m not worthy.’ Given the individual scientists who have received this honor in the past, I’m in rarefied air. My biggest pleasure is to see students and faculty become successful, to see the progress they’ve made.”

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

Source: Michael Kane, 273-4500, micropro@ufl.edu

Cutline: UF/IFAS environmental horticulture professor Michael Kane works in his lab. Kane was honored in May with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of In Vitro Biology. In Kane’s latest research, he and his staff and students are working on growing native wetland and coastal dune plants in the lab. Those sea oats are used to preserve dunes on the Florida coast. Some of the plants are also used to preserve wetlands. UF/IFAS file photo.

UF/IFAS strategies give forest owners, managers disaster-coping methods

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Forestry, Pests, Weather

Forest strategies

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Scientists believe climate change means more erratic weather patterns for the future, and that doesn’t bode well for forests in the Southeastern U.S.

Two things trees don’t need are damaging hurricane-force winds and wildfires, and they believe those climate change-related weather patterns portend more of both.

University of Florida researchers, including postdoctoral research associate Andres Susaeta, built a computer model that simulates various climate scenarios in hopes of minimizing the potentially cataclysmic damage to forests on privately owned forest land.

“Climate change is likely to affect forest productivity and exacerbate the impacts of big disasters on forest ecosystems in the South,” Susaeta said.

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UF/IFAS study: Some consumers confuse ‘local’ with ‘organic’ food

Topic(s): Conservation, Crops, Economics, Environment, Food Safety, Nutrition

OrganicVsLocalStory001 (2)

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With more people buying local and organic food, consumers should know the difference between the two so they recognize what they’re buying, but nearly one in five still confuse the terms, a University of Florida researcher says.

Newly published research, done in partnership with three other universities, aims to help local and organic food producers and sellers target their marketing messages to reinforce or dispel consumers’ perceptions. The organic-food industry has spent millions of dollars building brand awareness, only to see some consumers confuse “organic” food with “local” food products, said Ben Campbell, a University of Connecticut extension economist and the study’s lead author.

Hayk Khachatryan, a UF food and resource economics assistant professor, worked with Campbell and others to survey 2,511 people online in the U.S. and Canada in 2011 and found 17 percent thought the terms were interchangeable, the study said.

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UF/IFAS research findings shed light on seagrass needs

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

Tom Frazer seagrass 01 (4)

Cutline: Tom Frazer, professor of aquatic ecology and director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment at UF/IFAS, collects seagrass off Florida’s Gulf Coast in this UF/IFAS file photo. Frazer helped supervise a UF/IFAS graduate student’s thesis that examined how much sunlight is needed to keep seagrass healthy off the coast of Florida’s Big Bend.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Seagrass beds represent critical and threatened coastal habitats around the world, and a new University of Florida study shows how much sunlight seagrass needs to stay healthy.

Loss of seagrass means fish, crabs and other animals lose their homes and manatees and sea turtles lose a source of food. Nutrients, such as phosphorous, may prevent seagrass from getting the sunlight it needs to thrive. Nutrients may come from many sources, among them fertilizers used in agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, pet waste and septic tank waste.

Scientists often use seagrass to judge coastal ecosystems’ vitality, said Chuck Jacoby, a courtesy associate professor in the Department of Soil and Water Science and co-author of a new UF study that examines light and seagrass health.

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UF/IFAS web tool successfully measures farms’ water footprint

Topic(s): Agriculture, Conservation, Crops, New Technology

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new University of Florida web-based tool worked well during its trial run to measure water consumption at farms in four Southern states, according to a study published this month.

The system measures the so-called “water footprint” of a farm. In the broader sense, water footprints account for the amount of water used to grow or create almost everything we eat, drink, wear or otherwise use.

Researchers at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences introduced their WaterFootprint tool in the March issue of the journal Agricultural Systems, after using it to calculate water consumption at farms in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Texas.

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To the root of the matter – keeping nitrogen out of small streams

Topic(s): Aquaculture, Conservation, IFAS, Pollution, Research

Creek02

Feb. 25, 2014

GAINESVLLE, Fla. – For years, scientists tried to find out why some small streams carry only minute concentrations of nitrogen.

Now Stefan Gerber, a University of Florida researcher with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and Jack Brookshire, an assistant professor of biogeochemistry from Montana State University, believe they have solved the mystery. (more …)

PIE Center survey: Floridians value water, but not ‘all in’ on conservation

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

Lake Okeechobee.  Florida lakes, freshwater.  2010 Annual Research Report Photo.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Floridians value water, almost as much as they value money and their health — just don’t ask them to time themselves in the shower.

An online survey of 516 Floridians found that interest in water ranked third in a list of public issues, just behind the economy and health care, but ahead of taxes and public education. Eighty-three percent of respondents considered water a highly or extremely important issue.

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UF Water Institute to host symposium featuring state, national experts

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Conservation, Environment, Green Living

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida Water Institute will host its fourth symposium, “Sustainable Water Resources, Complex Challenges, Integrated Solutions,” Feb. 11-12 at the J. Wayne Reitz Union.

This year’s conference focuses on what organizers call “Water Supply Planning in a Non-Stationary World.” The forum is meant to bring many professional perspectives together to focus on science, technology, management, policy and public action.

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UF/IFAS study shows captive breeding no help to endangered woodrat

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

key largo woodrat

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Captive breeding of the endangered Key Largo woodrat may not be the best solution to preserve the ecologically important rodent, an animal driven to near extinction by development, a new University of Florida study shows.

Using a computer model, scientists developed a captive breeding-and-release program to see if adding captive-reared animals outweighed the loss of rats from the wild. But it did not, the study said.

Robert McCleery, UF assistant professor in wildlife ecology and conservation and co-author of the study, estimated that fewer than 500 of the woodrats remain. That’s down from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates of about 6,000 in 1984.

(more …)

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