GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As a Florida Sea Grant agent with the University of Florida’s Extension program, Maia McGuire has spent years educating Floridians about how plastic garbage can kill large animals such as turtles and sea birds if they eat discarded plastic items or become ensnared by them.
Now, McGuire is trying to raise awareness about microplastic, a much smaller form of seaborne garbage that threatens much smaller marine animals. Measuring 5 millimeters or less, smaller than the width of a pencil eraser, these fragments end up in coastal waters when large plastic items such as food packages break apart, or small particles such as plastic microbeads from personal-care products are washed out to sea.
To raise awareness about microplastic among Floridians, McGuire and a team of colleagues have just launched the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project, or FMAP, a one-year project funded by a $17,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program. The FMAP program aims to use a vigorous citizen-science training effort to draw attention to the problem and educate citizens on ways of reducing their potential contributions of microplastic to the environment.
One important facet of the project’s citizen-science effort is an informal microplastic assessment that will be conducted at 200 to 300 sites along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Volunteers will take water samples, then filter and analyze the samples to determine how much microplastic is present. The results will be posted on a Google Maps database, accessible through the FMAP website, http://www.plasticaware.org. (more …)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The next time a storm tears up your yard, let an expert assess the damage to any trees. A study from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences shows that homeowners perceive the risk of a damaged tree differently than trained professionals.
The survey of tree experts and homeowners in the Tampa Bay area assessed the perceptions of both groups when it came to assessing tree damage, said Andrew Koeser, an assistant professor in environmental horticulture and study author.
“While there are a number of factors tied to tree risk, most respondents were fixated on tree defects,” Koeser said. “Only experienced professionals considered other pertinent factors—namely whether the tree was actually a threat to a person, vehicle or house.”
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Asian guava orchards can bring nine times the profit as mango and avocado, all staples of South Florida’s agricultural sector, a new University of Florida study shows.
But Edward “Gilly” Evans, a UF/IFAS associate professor of food and resource economics, cautioned that guava is a niche market that can easily be oversupplied.
“The fruit is not mainstream, so if everyone were to rush out and start producing it, prices would tumble,” said Evans, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida. “It also involves a lot of work as each fruit has to be netted and bagged to avoid fruit fly damage or blemishes.”
Evans also said: “The main consumers are Asian, in northern cities such as New York and Chicago. The fruit is not as popular elsewhere, even though it is very nutritious and has a lot of health benefits.”
Guava contains several vitamins, including A, B2, C and E, along with calcium, copper, folate, iron, manganese, phosphorus and potassium, he said.
Evans led a study of costs and returns on a 5-acre guava orchard in Miami-Dade County. To get their cost and revenue figures, he and intern Stella Garcia interviewed farmers and Extension agents. Then they put the numbers through several economic calculations.
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LIVE OAK, Fla. — In between seasons of corn, peanut, and cotton, North Florida farmers were interested in growing a rotation crop that could withstand the wilting heat of summer and be harvested by machine.
So, since 2011, University of Florida researchers have been experimenting with growing the tiny seeds you find on top of hamburger buns or garnishing salads – sesame – as a viable, money-making crop. (more …)
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While the crested floatingheart can help beautify an aquarium or a water garden, it clogs canals and slows drainage, particularly during heavy rains.
“It’s really attractive. It looks like a water lily,” said Lyn Gettys, an aquatic plant specialist at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. Crested floatingheart is also easy to grow and flourishes with little effort.
Instead of freezing unwanted crested floatinghearts and bringing them to a local landfill, many homeowners toss them into canals, said Gettys, an assistant professor of agronomy with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
For about a year, Gettys has been compiling data to quantify the seriousness that crested floatingheart poses for canals. Crested floatinghearts reproduce mostly by way of ramets, an asexual form of multiplying. Gettys is trying to find out how many “babies” a single plant can make. She’s particularly interested in the effects of soil type and fertilizer on the plant’s ability to reproduce.
Preliminary data show soil has no impact. But if plants are well-fertilized, one floatingheart can produce more than 100 ramets per month. If only half of the new ramets sprout and make as many of their own babies as the original plant, that’s potentially 114,000 plants in six months, Gettys said.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With deer hunting season under way in the state, University of Florida Extension Agent Derek Barber has some tips for North Florida hunters on planting the right forages in food plots to help attract deer and wild turkey. (more …)
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Most recreational anglers who target deep-water reef fish in Florida recognize barotrauma symptoms, and University of Florida researchers think they can teach the other 30 percent to help save the fish.
By doing so, anglers would play a key role in sustaining the state’s valuable fisheries.
When anglers reel in their catch from deep waters, fish can suffer problems caused by gas pressure changes – or barotrauma. Often the gas-filled swim bladder of the fish has ruptured, releasing the gas into the fish’s body cavity. Symptoms of barotrauma include the stomach protruding from the fish’s mouth, bulging eyes, a bloated belly and distended intestines. Fish with these symptoms find it hard to swim back down to their natural habitat, and many die as a result.
Mitigating this condition may be a key to maintaining Florida’s fisheries, said Chuck Adams, a marine economist with Florida Sea Grant. The importance of reducing this source of mortality for fish is further underscored by a recent UF/IFAS report that showed fishing and seafood products have a $565 million-a-year impact on Florida’s economy. That report can be found here: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fe969.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Assistant Professor Matthew E. Smith is readying millions of fungi specimens for their close-ups.
He and members of his team are helping to take photographs of and catalogue 2.3 million microfungi specimens for a worldwide database of mushrooms, truffles, molds and mildews, among other types of fungi. The National Science Foundation recently awarded the team more than $200,000 for their efforts. (more …)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Young consumers are more likely to buy peaches than older people, and those 18- to 24-year-olds prefer crisp, firm peaches with good flavor, a new University of Florida study shows.
In fact, people aged 51 to 68 are the least interested in buying peaches. Those of that age who do buy peaches prefer sweet, melting-texture peaches. Although they did not study the reason older people don’t like peaches as much, UF/IFAS scientists think older consumers may have repeatedly bought poor-quality peaches in the past, triggering an interest in other fruits.
“It was refreshing to see young consumers being interested in purchasing fruit and peaches in particular,” said Mercy Olmstead, assistant professor in horticultural sciences and lead author of the study. “Most of the breeding efforts here at UF have been directed toward peaches with non-melting, firmer texture, so having the younger generation prefer crisp, firm peaches was exciting.”
Overall, consumers want sweet, tasty peaches that melt in your mouth, she said.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers have taken a big step toward breeding tastier blueberries with a three-year study that examined the traits consumers desire. Now they have specific breeding targets to improve flavor.
For a study published Sept. 17 in the online journal PLOS ONE, UF/IFAS Plant Innovation Center scientists harvested 19 cultivars of blueberries and tested them in 30 panels at the UF sensory lab. The diverse group of cultivars allowed researchers to test a wide range of blueberry flavors, said Jim Olmstead, UF/IFAS associate professor of horticultural sciences.
Of the 217 people who taste-tested the blueberries, many were repeat panelists, said Olmstead, who led the experiment. As a result of the high participation level, researchers were able to determine which biochemical compounds were most closely associated with blueberry flavor and that people liked the most.