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Study: Endangered elephants’ outlook bleak without more room to roam

Topic(s): Conservation, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Intelligent and beautiful, the Asian elephant is running out of time unless humans step aside and give it some room.

Shrinking habitat and conflicts with humans could hurt the endangered elephant’s numbers and throw the species’ viability into question.

In a new study published this month in the journal Biological Conservation, University of Florida researchers looked at what must happen for the species to avoid extinction.

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UF/IFAS study shows flavor trumps health for blueberry buying

Topic(s): Crops, Cultivars, Economics, Nutrition, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Taste trumps health benefits for blueberry buyers, sending a strong message that fruit consumers value flavor most, new University of Florida research shows.

About 61 percent of blueberry consumers buy the fruit for its flavor, while 39 percent do so for psychological reasons, according to two national online surveys. By “psychological,” researchers mean those consumers may buy blueberries because they believe the fruit, which contains antioxidants, provides health benefits.

UF horticultural sciences assistant professor Jim Olmstead will use the data as he breeds new types of blueberries. Olmstead uses traditional breeding methods to create blueberry cultivars that have traits consumers want.

“What we’re trying to determine is: What is the consumer’s perception of the ideal blueberry? What should it look, taste and feel like?” said Olmstead, a faculty member with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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UF/IFAS study: Strawberry monitoring system could add $1.7 million over 10 years to some farms

Topic(s): Crops, Economics, New Technology, Research

Natalia Peres strawberries

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida-developed web tool can bring growers $1.7 million more in net profits over 10 years than a calendar-based fungicide system because it guides growers to spray their crop at optimal times, a new UF study shows.

The Strawberry Advisory System, devised by an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher, takes data such as temperature and leaf wetness and tells growers when to spray fungicide to ward off diseases. Growers can use the system by logging onto www.agroclimate.org/tools/strawberry or use the website to sign up for email or text alerts.

Before the system was developed, strawberry farmers traditionally sprayed weekly during the November-to-March growing season. Spraying more often than is needed wastes money and can lead to fungicide resistance, said Natalia Peres, associate professor in plant pathology, who led the system’s development.

Not all strawberry growers use the system, but this research might persuade them to do so, said Tatiana Borisova, an assistant professor in UF/IFAS food and resource economics department.

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Panthers prey on ranchers’ calves, but amount varies, UF/IFAS research shows

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

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A two-year panther study at two southwest Florida cattle ranches shows that the endangered cats attack and kill calves, but how often that happens can vary greatly by location and landscape.

Caitlin Jacobs, a University of Florida master’s student in wildlife ecology and conservation, conducted the study, in which radio-transmitter tags were put on the ears of 409 calves at two ranches, both near Immokalee.

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UF/IFAS study finds simple solution to monitoring major berry pest

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

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Using a yeast-sugar-water mixture, berry growers can easily keep tabs on a pest that causes millions in damage each year in the U.S., a new University of Florida study shows.

Farmers can conduct a test to determine if the spotted wing drosophila is in their field – and if so, how prevalent. They punch holes near the upper rim of a covered plastic cup and pour in a yeast-sugar-water mix to about 1 inch high in the cup.

The liquid mixture lures the pest, and growers add a drop of dishwashing liquid to thicken the bait and keep the bugs from escaping. Growers check the traps once a week to see how many bugs are in them. Knowing the pest population is the first step to controlling the bug, also known as the drosophila suzukii.

The female insect cuts a slit in the fruit’s skin and lays eggs there. The larvae consume strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and other thin-skinned fruit, said Oscar Liburd, a UF entomology and nematology professor.

“The drosophila suzukii is the biggest threat to berry production in the United States,” said Liburd, a faculty member at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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

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

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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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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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Climate, genetics can affect how long virus-carrying mosquitoes live

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, Pests, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s just math: The longer a mosquito lives, the better its odds of transmitting disease to humans or animals.

But as it turns out, factors such as the mosquito’s own genetics and the climate it lives in have a big – albeit complicated and not wholly understood – role to play in its lifespan.

University of Florida researchers, hoping to better understand how West Nile virus affects mosquitoes, set up an experiment they outline in the Journal of Vector Ecology’s current issue.

Mosquitoes can transmit any number of pathogens to humans, including protozoan malaria, West Nile, dengue and chikungunya viruses. Malaria cases range between 350 million and 500 million each year, with 1 million to 3 million deaths every year.

In the experiment, UF researchers examined survival rates for mosquitoes from two laboratory-reared colonies, one from Gainesville and one from Vero Beach.

Half of each of the mosquito colonies was fed West Nile virus-infected blood, the other half kept as a control population, and fed blood without the virus.

They divided the groups once more, this time keeping the mosquitoes at two temperatures, one group at 80.6 degrees, the other at 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit – a rather large difference in temperature for cold-blooded insects.

Their findings were both unexpected and illuminating, said Barry Alto, a UF assistant professor of arbovirology based at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach.

“Our results indicate that interactions between mosquitoes and arboviruses are really complex … these things that haven’t really been taken into account previously might make a difference,” said Alto, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The researchers found that warmer temperature shortened survival.  Also, for the most part, the Vero Beach mosquitoes lived longer than those from Gainesville, indicating that some groups, or strains, of mosquitoes might just be genetically hardier than others.

They found that in general, the mosquitoes fared better at cooler temperatures.

But they also found that the West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes from Gainesville fared worse than their counterparts at the hotter temperatures, and to their surprise, that the Vero Beach-bred mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus lived longer than all other groups at the cooler temperature, including control-group mosquitoes not exposed to the virus.

Ingesting virus-infected blood may take a toll on the mosquito’s health, Alto said, but it’s clear that other factors: immune response, genetics and the environment, are also at play and need more study.

“It’s quite complex, there’s a lot of stuff going on here,” Alto said. “But I think the take-home  message is that these viruses, when they’re in mosquitoes, not only can they alter parameters like survivorship that are really important to disease transmission, but they can alter them in non-intuitive ways — sometimes enhancing, sometimes decreasing survivorship, and that those situations arise when you start considering other factors of the environment, like temperature.”

Adding to scientists’ knowledge base of how disease affects insects is key to finding the best ways to limit its spread, Alto said.

“In the most general sense, in order for humans to control disease, we really need to know how the mosquito interacts with these viruses,” he said. “In the absence of a human vaccine, the best way to control any sort of mosquito-borne virus is to control the mosquito. Simply put, if the mosquito doesn’t bite you, you’re not going to get the pathogen.”

Besides Alto, the research team included Stephanie Richards, an assistant professor at East Carolina University; Sheri Anderson, a former graduate student at the Florida Medical Entomology Lab and Cynthia Lord, an associate professor in modeling of vector-borne disease transmission, also of the FMEL. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and UF/IFAS.

Contacts:

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