Controlling Fire Ants

I despise fire ants, as I’ve said before in this blog. But I don’t want to use poisons that kill every living thing and contaminate the land and water. Maybe here’s the answer

Source: National Gardening Association

Fire ants are a major pest in lawns and gardens across much of the country. Now there is an effective organic control that will help eliminate these harmful pests that’s safer for the environment than traditional control methods.

Spinosad is derived from the fermentation of a naturally occurring bacterium. This organic insecticide is highly effective at low rates, can last for weeks in the soil, and has less impact on predatory, beneficial insects than non-organic chemicals. Spinosad attacks the nervous system of the ants, causing them to eventually be paralyzed and die. It is also effective on thrips and caterpillars.

fire ant piles

Spinosad works best when broadcast over a large area and then applied as a drench on individual mounds in high-traffic areas. Apply Spinosad when the weather is warm (above 65° F), but not hot. During the hot part of the summer, apply Spinosad in the late afternoon or early evening when rain is not expected for the next 24 hours. Ants should start dying within one day, and you should notice a decrease in ant activity in the mound soon after.

Spinosad is available at garden centers under trade names such as Conserve and Entrust. For more information, go to the Texas Cooperative Extension Web site.

Wind farms pose low risk to birds

Source: BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Wind farms pose low risk to birds.

Migrating birds are unlikely to be seriously affected by offshore wind farms, according to a study. Scientists found that birds simply fly around the farm, or between the turbines; less than 1% are in danger of colliding with the giant structures. Writing in the Royal Society’s journal Biology Letters, the researchers say previous estimates of collision risk have been "over-inflated".

However, conservationists warn that turbines pose other risks to birdlife. The research project involved one of Denmark’s two large offshore wind farms, Nysted in the Baltic Sea, which contains 72 turbines each measuring 69m to the top of the nacelle or hub. It started operating in 2003. "This is the first such study involving a large-scale offshore wind farm," researcher Mark Desholm, from the Environmental Research Institute in Ronde told the BBC News website.

There has been other data from farms with fewer than 10 turbines, but we thought this issue was so important because the potential for offshore wind power is so huge." Globally, offshore projects currently generate around 600 MW, less than 2% of the overall total for wind. But the potential is huge, because there is less competition for space at sea, turbines are less visible, and the wind there is often more reliable. …

David Gibbons, head of conservation science at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), told the BBC News website that this study suggested the risks to birds were smaller than had been feared. "It’s a nice, clear picture of research; there’s always been concern about turbines as ‘mincers’, but this study is suggesting that the birds fly around or go through. So on the face of it, this is pretty good news for wind farms; but there are other issues when you look at the much larger farms which are coming, and different ways in which they could affect birds.

Economic lessons with juicy twists

Source: Business 2.0 :: What’s Next :: What the Economists Aren’t Telling You

Money can replace morals. To deter parents from picking kids up late, a day-care center fined them $3 per child for each infraction. But the number of latecomers doubled, because "parents could buy off their guilt," Levitt writes.

Legalizing abortion lessened crime. Levitt presents compelling evidence that Roe v. Wade — in reducing the number of potential criminals born — had a far greater impact on the early-1990s drop in crime than gun control, the strong economy, or improved police tactics.

Semantics sells. In real estate ads, specific words like "granite" and "gourmet" fetch higher home prices, while vague descriptors like "charming" and "great neighborhood" drive values down.

Drug dealing is harder than you think. A crack dealer earning a paltry $3.30 an hour has a higher chance of being killed (1 in 4) than a Texas death row inmate (1 in 20).

Steps to a better brain

Link: New Scientist 11 steps to a better brain – Features.

There are lots of tricks, techniques and habits, as well as changes to your lifestyle, diet and behaviour that can help you flex your grey matter and get the best out of your brain cells. And here are 11 of them.

Smart drugs

A few drugs that might do the job, known as "cognitive enhancement", are already on the market, and a few dozen others are on the way. Perhaps the best-known is modafinil. Licensed to treat narcolepsy, the condition that causes people to suddenly fall asleep, it has notable effects in healthy people too. Modafinil can keep a person awake and alert for 90 hours straight, with none of the jitteriness and bad concentration that amphetamines or even coffee seem to produce.

Food for thought

YOUR brain is the greediest organ in your body, with some quite specific dietary requirements. So it is hardly surprising that what you eat can affect how you think. If you believe the dietary supplement industry, you could become the next Einstein just by popping the right combination of pills. Look closer, however, and it isn’t that simple. The savvy consumer should take talk of brain-boosting diets with a pinch of low-sodium salt. But if it is possible to eat your way to genius, it must surely be worth a try.

The Mozart effect

A DECADE ago Frances Rauscher, a psychologist now at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, and her colleagues made waves with the discovery that listening to Mozart improved people’s mathematical and spatial reasoning. Even rats ran mazes faster and more accurately after hearing Mozart than after white noise or music by the minimalist composer Philip Glass. Last year, Rauscher reported that, for rats at least, a Mozart piano sonata seems to stimulate activity in three genes involved in nerve-cell signalling in the brain.

Bionic brains

If training and tricks seem too much like hard work, some technological short cuts can boost brain function.

Gainful employment

UNTIL recently, a person’s IQ – a measure of all kinds of mental problem-solving abilities, including spatial skills, memory and verbal reasoning – was thought to be a fixed commodity largely determined by genetics. But recent hints suggest that a very basic brain function called working memory might underlie our general intelligence, opening up the intriguing possibility that if you improve your working memory, you could boost your IQ too.

Memory marvels

The difference between mere mortals and memory champs is more method than mental capacity.

Sleep on it

Never underestimate the power of a good night’s rest.

Body and mind

Physical exercise can boost brain as well as brawn.

Attention seeking

You can be smart, well-read, creative and knowledgeable, but none of it is any use if your mind isn’t on the job.

Positive feedback

Thought control is easier than you might imagine.

via Sonal Vidya via Atanu Dey

Wise and Learning

"The wise speak when they have something to say, the fools speak when they have to say something." – Unknown

"Wise men learn more from fools than fools learn from the wise." – Unknown

We Need the Rainforests

Recently I heard an investment analyst on CNBC recommend a company because "they sell soybeans and Brazil is going to clearcut large sections of rainforest to plant soybeans."

Today I read more bad news on Nova Spivack’s blog.

I read the an article today about how Brazil is gradually losing the fight to save the Amazon. The worlds’ rainforests are a global resource — not only are they directly important to the air we all breathe, they also harbor a huge, still untapped, reservoir of species diversity which could be of profound importance to science and future medical and pharma research. The problem is that currently there is no direct benefit to Brazil, or other rainforest nations, for the global use of their rainforest resources.

The key then is to find a way to turn rainforests into economically valuable national resources for countries that maintain them. In other words, rainforests should be to Brazil, what oil is to Saudi Arabia (or actually better, because rainforests, unlike oil, are renewable). Rainforest countries should make more money by keeping their rainforests alive and healthy,  than by chopping them down.

One way to accomplish this would be what I call a "Global Rainforest Tax" (see also) that would be paid pro-rata by all nations annually, to countries that have virgin rainforests. The more virgin rainforest a country maintains, the larger share of the global Rainforest Tax they would garner each year.

While I applaud his cause, I see politicians using the public’s hatred of taxes to get elected and re-elected here in the U.S. But I think anyone running for office who votes for taxing people for benefits that are not immediate, obvious, and local is doomed.

So I’m going to propose a small-is-beautiful, low-tech solution.

We should all eat more Brazil Nuts!

Harvesting Brazil Nuts creates a local economy in the rainforests that is sustainable and generates revenue. Here’s what the Amazon Conservation Association says:

Brazil nut trees occur in natural dense stands, which make the castañales (Brazil nut forests) economically attractive. These areas, of several hundred to a few thousand hectares, are given in concession to local families and/or to larger landholders for the extraction of nuts. Fruits are gathered and opened up in the forest, and nuts are brought up to camps by local harvesters (castañeros), typically a family that lives in the castañal or moves in during the harvesting season.

The harvesters sell the nuts to local shelling factories, which pack and export the product overseas. This extractive activity represents more than half the yearly income for thousands of families in these areas, and so far has politically justified the protection of the Brazil nut areas for extractive purposes only. As such, castañales offer a natural management unit that is remarkably cost-effective for biodiversity conservation. Each castañero typically controls access to some 1,000 hectares of primary forest, areas that will remain protected as long as they are being harvested for nuts.

The people of these cross-boundary areas share a common resource base, a forested ecosystem of global biodiversity significance. Their quest for self-improvement will ultimately determine the fate of these forests. Yet the inhabitants of the region exist in a technical information vacuum with little communication occurring between adjacent countries or between the scientific community and the occupants of the forest and governmental institutions. As a result people must utilize these forests under radically different government policies and without scientifically based management information.

Castañales and the castañeros who work them, remain as isolated frontier entities outside the political, scientific and social mainstream. There is a three-part disconnection – the science that biologists conduct in tropical forests, the national environmental and development policies that affect the fate of these forests, and local forest management regimes still co-exist as unrelated entities. Fortunately however, this situation can be rectified with modest inputs.

The chief barriers are not economic. Harvesting Brazil nuts is a potentially competitive economic alternative to deforestation. Castañales offer one of the few cases where the density of a renewable natural resource other than timber is sufficient to justify the existence of large forested areas against unsustainable uses such as cattle ranching. Rather than economic, the obstacles are informational and policy-related in nature.

Although Brazil nuts represent a cost-effective, economically viable option for protecting tropical forests, their social, economic and ecological importance is poorly appreciated in centers of government. As a result there is weak policy support for castañal-based development and land tenure. Moreover, much remains to be learned about how to best manage castañales for maximal ecological and economic benefit. The economic value of Brazil nuts to local harvesters is important but still insufficient to provide them with their most basic needs. Local harvesters (or producers herein) often have no other option than to destructively exploit other forest resources. A second result is that large areas of forest are not harvested and are therefore not defended from alternative destructive land use practices. Science-based productivity-enhancing management of Brazil nut-rich areas and increased policy support is needed to make the castañal system effective in conserving Amazonian biodiversity. Remarkably almost nothing is known, or has been implemented, regarding the basic biology and management of Brazil nuts, let alone the total renewable-resource base of this ecosystem.

At the risk on increasing the price of one of my favorite snacks, I wish more people would start munching on the healthy and tasty brazil nut. Eating brazil nuts benefits an ecosystem that impacts the whole earth. Here’s what the World Wildlife Fund says:

The Brazil nut tree is part of the delicate web of life in the Amazon. Apart from orchid bees, agoutis, and the Brazil nut harvesters, the life of many other plants and animals is intertwined with this tree. The empty seed pods, for example, fill with rainwater and provide breeding grounds for damselflies, a poison frog, and a toad, all of whom depend on these small ponds on the forest floor. The major threat to the trees — and the myriad of life that relies on them — is forest clearing. Sustainable harvesting of Brazil nuts is therefore a vital way to provide protection of Peru’s forests. So do what the slogan says — eat a Brazil nut and save the Amazon!

Some people have tried to domesticate Brazil nuts by creating farms. But it hasn’t worked as planned, according to the Brazil Nut homepage of the Amazon Conservation Association:

Several Brazil nut plantations have been established in Brazil. Although trees have grown into reproductive age, their production is low, making them economical unprofitable. Why plantations do not produce as wild trees do? This research is investigating several possibilities, including pollination, given that, as it has been suggested, increasing forest disturbance and fires, may be affecting pollinator availability.

For Brazil nuts to be an effective sustainable resource that economically justifies forest protection, nut marketing has to benefit local peoples in a greater degree. The process that follows nut collection is a complex and fascinating one. Nuts go through local dealers, then to peeling and bagging factories, and then to exporting companies. Although profitable, most of the benefits go to the last link of the chain. Communal factories would help to locals to get a better share. This project is involved in supporting grassroot initiatives, and working closely with local peoples. This is another part of the story that this research is focusing as a major goal. Basic research is probing to serve more than the ideal of increasing the biological knowledge, but also having an impact in social as well as in economic aspects. Future work is pointing towards the implementation of forest enrichment plans which will help to keep biodiversity as well as helping rainforest peoples.

Maybe the fact that Brazil nuts are not farmed and are only available from the native rainforests is a blessing. Creating a local economy that can sustain the workers and gives the local governments a reason to protect the forests is a viable plan if some of the questions raised above can be resolved. Maybe an influential investor will see an opportunity to make a difference.

What about Amazon.com? Doesn’t the corporation that uses the name Amazon to to create an image of a huge online store have some incentive to preserve the Amazon River basin? Amazon.com could at least promote Brazil nuts and tell their story.

In the meantime, I recommend that we all eat more Brazil nuts. If you don’t like the taste, buy them and give them to someone who does. Ask your grocery store to stock them. The Amazon may be clearcut for cattle and soybean farming unless a viable economic activity like exporting Brazil nuts intevenes.

Thailand Is Getting Greener

All the TV stations in Thailand show the impact of everyone turning off one unused light on electricity use – in real time.

Link: WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: Letter from Bangkok.

In just five minutes, Thailand’s national electricity consumption has gone down by over 700 megawatts — enough to shut down one of the country’s fourteen large hydropower stations.

fourteen million Thai households, whose TVs are showing only this show, are supposed to turn off one unused light. Cameras with aerial views show houses, skyscrapers, whole cities darkening — not fully, but noticeably. And a small moving graph on the screen starts to register the change in energy consumption.

…Chirapol Sintunawa is a happy man tonight, because the whole exercise was originally his idea. He pushed the light switch on national TV like this for the first time several years ago. Now, it’s become an annual event, with greater energy savings every time — and with the Prime Minister himself leading the charge (or rather, reduction in charge). Energy conservation is part of the PM’s national agenda.

Thailand, whose Buddhist culture gives it an extraordinary flexibility, is known for its ability contain paradoxes. I’m told that the mayor of Pattaya, capital city of the country’s famous go-go bars, stood on the main street amidst the neon, looked right at the television news cameras, and declared that there was "no prostitution here." Meanwhile, in a conversation with a business consultant, I learned that such bars are a hot investment commodity in the global market, and the quality of the prostitutes figures prominently in the selling price.

Big, fancy cars are stuck in traffic everywhere. Cell phones glued to every ear. The whole population is noticeably much taller: milk consumption has gone up by a factor of 12 during those years, among many other developments. Lots of "world-class" stuff: metro system, movie theaters, prominent global brands. But there are still lots of simple, world-class food stalls on the street as well.

The whole system, and its growth, looks terribly unsustainable of course — without some significant changes in course. That’s what my friends here are trying to do. The hotels have an environmentally-friendly rating system, the Green Leaf (Chirapol also helped start that program). You can find fair-trade eco-products mixed among the French designer labels.

Golf course is an environmental renaissance

Source: Golf course is an environmental renaissance – gainesvilletimes.com.

Renaissance PineIsle Resort and Golf Club on Lake Lanier Islands has been recognized by Audubon International for its environmental stewardship.

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System encourages golf courses to emphasize conservation. Renaissance has been in the sanctuary program since 1996, but only recently received certification in environmental planning.

Grounds director Anthony Williams said he soon expects to fulfill the requirements for the other categories of certification: wildlife and habitat management; chemical use reduction and safety; water conservation; water quality management; and outreach and education.

Shawn Williams, staff ecologist for New York-based Audubon International, said the sanctuary program has 31 sites in Georgia, 10 of which are fully certified in all categories. Nationwide, there are 1,855 member properties, 461 fully certified.

"Our goal is to show that golf courses can coexist with the environment very easily," he said.

Golf courses enrolled in the program don’t necessarily gain a business advantage. But Anthony Williams thinks they provide a better experience for their customers.

"Where golf originated in Scotland, it was about enjoying the lay of the land and the creatures that lived there," he said. "I think we’re a return to the traditional."

Golfers at Renaissance may not notice some of the environmentally friendly methods. For example, they can’t tell that only eight pounds of insecticides were used on the 167-acre property last year.

But other distinctions will be obvious.

"We look different from the average golf course because we allow natural areas to return," Anthony Williams said. "You can see 50 varieties of birds here. We have a nesting colony of bank swallows, which is unusual for this area."

Renaissance has put up boxes to house bluebirds and other species. Landscaping plants, both on the golf course and around the adjacent hotel, have been chosen to attract birds and butterflies.

Turfgrass selection also is important, said Shawn Williams. "Choose turf species that are adapted to your region and are drought-tolerant," he said. "Have a system of irrigation heads so you can water only the spots that really need it, rather than the entire course."

Managers are asked to be similarly judicious in applying pesticides. Anthony Williams said they’re supposed to walk the course frequently, monitoring for fungal disease or grub infestations.

"If you find something, you just need to spray that location instead of blanketing the course."

Water protection is also critical. Grass is allowed to grow higher around water holes, and no chemicals are sprayed within 50 feet of streams. Golf courses in the program are also required to test their water and soil for pollution.

And trees should be part of the equation. "Out-of-play areas can be naturalized to benefit wildlife," Shawn Williams said. "Deer, hawks, mice and squirrels can thrive if you have forested areas. Edge species such as rabbits do well, too."

Sprints as beneficial as hour long jog

Source: A few 30-second sprints as beneficial as hour long jog | Science Blog.

Performing repeated bouts of high-intensity "sprint"-type exercise resulted in profound changes in skeletal muscle and endurance capacity, similar to training that requires hours of exercise each week.

Just six minutes of intense exercise a week could be as effective as an hour of daily moderate activity suggests new findings from researchers at McMaster University.

"Short bouts of very intense exercise improved muscle health and performance comparable to several weeks of traditional endurance training," says Martin Gibala, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology of McMaster.

The research is published in the June edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology.