The Environmental Impact of GMOs

An article made available in Science Direct, 2022, unpacks the potential benefits that genetically modified crops have for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Authors of the document, Emma Kovak, DanBlaustein-Rejto and Matin Qaim, claim that “genetically modified (GM) crops can help reduce agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition to possible decreases in production emissions, GM yield gains also mitigate land-use change and related emissions”.

How Do GMOs Affect The Environment?

GM (genetically modified) crops are agriculture plants that have had stretches of DNA added, effectively modified or turned off within their genome to achieve desired traits. GM crops are commonly designed to be more resistant to insects and tolerant to herbicides. Modified crops can therefore lower the need for chemical pesticides, which are greenhouse gas contributors. Also, yield increases from GM crop use may prevent greenhouse gas emissions from the conversion of natural land (land that is uncultivated) to cropland. Land conversions promote greenhouse gas emissions through tilling and forest clearing.

GMO Climate Change Strategy

The article contrives a hypothetical scenario in which the European Union (EU) lifts its “quasi-ban” against widespread GM crop use. Authors of the article assume that yield increases from genetically modified crop adoption in the EU would offer benefits similar to those observed in other industrialized, temperate-zone countries that use modified crops. They further assume that enhanced crop production in the EU will bring about proportional decrease in agriculture production elsewhere. The latter of these assumptions is built on the belief that land will be spared (remain uncultivated) because the EU will be producing more crops domestically, consequently shrinking land conversion demands in outside territories.

Avoided emissions estimates from increased yield are intentionally underestimated in the article. Although authors state that “…higher GM crop adoption in the EU would likely also lead to higher [technology] adoption elsewhere”, their avoided emissions estimates do not account for the implementation of technology related to genetically modified crop use.

Avoided emissions estimates also do not account for the implementation of novel modified crops and traits. In other words, estimates are strictly based on well known genetically modified crops (soybean, cotton, canola, maize, and sugar beet) and the traits that they are designed with.

GMOs Reduce Carbon Emissions

Even though estimates are based on already-existing technology for modified crop application as well as already-existing modified plants and traits, it may be fair to assume that new technologies and new crops and traits would emerge from increased modified crop adoption in the European Union. Authors of the article assert that the EU can and should “increase agricultural productivity through embracing new crop technologies, thus contributing to global environmental benefits”.

GMO Benefits

Adopting genetically modified crops in places like Europe, which has higher wheat crop loss levels-caused by insects and pathogens-that the global average, may result in improved crop growth by making vegetation more resilient to environmental stressors, such as disease, insects and herbicide application. Increased vegetation is expected to lead to enhanced soil fertility and improve carbon absorption in soils and biomass. By boosting crop yields in areas that have not broadly accepted genetically modified vegetation, tilling and forest clearing-related emissions can be mitigated.

How Has Climate Change Affected Yellowstone Amphibians?

A new study published in the science journal Ecology Indicators highlights how environmental changes in Yellowstone National Park are leading to habitat loss for some amphibian species. As Yellowstone continue to heat up and dry out under the influence of climate change, certain amphibians that move across the park are expected to experience loss of habitable zones. Authors of the study predict that continued climate change will “reduce snowpack, soil moisture, and forest cover” and diminish wetland habitats throughout Yellowstone National Park.

Will Amphibians Survive Climate Change?

Amphibians are ectothermic, meaning that they absorb heat from external sources in their environment to regulate their body temperatures. That being the case, hotter temperatures are potentially beneficial to amphibians in certain microclimates. Microclimates are small, restricted sections of an area that have different climatic states relative to the surrounding space. Warmer microclimates can help amphibians survive through the winter or forage for provisions during the day. However, warming temperatures that also drive dryer air and soils can limit amphibians’ ability to rehydrate while traveling cross stretches of land.

Amphibian hydroregulation is likewise dependent on factors in their environment, as they are unable to control water evaporation from their bodies. Amphibians require humidity and sufficient water availability to avoid dehydration. Terrestrial habitats that lack moist soils and forest cover from direct sun exposure can impede amphibians’ thermo-hydroregulation abilities.

How Has Climate Change Affected Yellowstone National Park Amphibians?

Researchers of the amphibian-Yellowstone study mechanistically modeled the movement of amphibians within the park for the years 2000, 2050 and 2090 to gauge the “costs” (disadvantages) to amphibians under the influence of climate change. Model simulations included data relating to Yellowstone’s vegetation, weather and details about animals’ morphology and physiology. Western Toads (Anaxyrus boreas) were used as the subject species for the model. Inferences were then made about other amphibians native to the park.

How Did Amphibians Adapt to Their Changing Environment?

The results were mixed across the three “test areas” which were modeled; in one of the test areas, physiological movement costs increased, decreased in the second and were mixed in the last. Authors of the study “predict that climate change will reduce the physiological costs for toads in some regions of YNP but increase them in others”. Snowpack loss and drying conditions throughout portions of Yellowstone may shrink wetlands, which could limit breeding sites for toads and make travel between breeding sites more costly. Other amphibian species are expect to experience worse consequences from warming and drying climates than toads. For example, Boreal Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris maculata), are less resistant to desiccation than toads because they are more dependent on wetlands.

Are Amphibians Sensitive to Climate Change?

Strictly speaking, warming conditions do not affect all amphibians in Yellowstone National Park the same. Variations in weather and vegetation cover brought on by climate change may make moving across the stretches of land that surround wetlands more costly for some amphibian species, particularly those less tolerant to dry habitats.

What Are Direct and Indirect Effects of Climate Change?

Freshwater systems provide usable water for technological development, agriculture and human consumption, while also serving as habitats for various aquatic species. Therefore, freshwater systems are of crucial economic and ecological value. A 2021 study titled, ” “The Importance of Indirect Effects of Climate Change Adaptations On Alpine and Pre-Alpine Freshwater Systems” asserts that human-made transformations in water hydrology and pollution from sewer outflows and agriculture chemicals are threats to freshwater systems. Properly accounting for the effects of climate change and anthropogenic influence on aquatic environments will hopefully improve climate change adaptation policies.

What Is Freshwater?

Rivers, reservoirs, and streams are examples of freshwaters systems. Freshwater is a subset of Earth’s water which is significantly less salty than marine waters (like seas and oceans). The United States Geological Survey, a branch dedicated to science within the United States Department of the Interior, defines freshwater as “water containing less than 1,000 milligrams per liter of dissolved solids, most often salt.” Though freshwater is renewed through the water cycle, it is a finite resource. If freshwater is used more quickly than it is naturally replenished, water security risks may be enhanced.

What Are Direct and Indirect Effects of Climate Change?

Authors of “The Importance of Indirect Effects of Climate Change Adaptations On Alpine and Pre-Alpine Freshwater Systems”, regard higher frequency of extreme meteorological events and increased temperatures as “direct effects” of climate change. These direct effects adversely influence the state and quality of aquatic regions. Direct effects also interact with human responses to climate change and produce “indirect effects”.

So-called indirect effects refer to human practices that are aimed at climate change mitigation. Indirect effects include land-use changes, alterations to freshwater systems and increasing irrigation practices. Authors suggest that “indirect effects may, at least in the short term, overrun the impact of direct climate change on water bodies.” Though all biomes are predicted to be impacted by climate change, freshwater systems in alpine and pre-alpine regions may be disproportionately at risk due to agriculture and hydropower plants.

Adapting Water Management to Climate Change

Freshwater use for the production of energy, also known as hydropower, is typically made possible by dams and in-stream structures. Hydropower infrastructure generates usable electricity for homes and businesses. Authors of the 2021 review article posit that hydropower is used as an alternative to nonrenewable energy resources. Hydropower production is therefore considered an adaptation strategy to climate change. Hydropower installations in freshwater networks can fragment or isolate certain species populations which are ill-adapted for the changes in water flow and perpetuate biodiversity loss. By modifying the hydrology of freshwater systems, water usage for energy production can compound the direct effects of climate change to aquatic flora and fauna.

How Does Agriculture Affect Climate Change?

Agriculture can be of detriment to freshwater systems as well, but in a much different way than hydropower plants. Climate change can intensify extreme weather event trends, such as floods, storms and droughts; these effects can drive diminished crop yields. In the interest of mitigating threats to crops brought on by climate change, agriculturalists may expand irrigation infrastructure or enhance fertilizer use. These adaptations can exacerbate the consequences which are already affecting crop growth cycles.

What Is the Impact of Climate Change On Water Resources?

Authors of the 2021 review claim that “rain-fed dairy farming is currently the most predominant form of agriculture, but in the future these grasslands may become more and more dependent on irrigation”. Redirecting water for irrigation use can potentially limit the quantity of water available in freshwater ecosystems. Variability in weather regimes may contribute to further dependence on water from irrigation (rather than from rainfall) in the future. Some of the responses that agriculturalists are expected to as a response to a changing climate pose risks to freshwater systems. Policy makers must account for indirect impacts to alleviate worsening the ecological status and water quality within aquatic environments.

Climate Change Impacts on Seabirds and Marine Mammals

A new review published in Ecology Letters, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, assessed seabird and marine mammals’ responses to climate change and climate variability. Researchers based their analysis on data from more than 480 preexisting studies and found that “the likelihood of concluding that climate change had an impact increased with study duration”.

In other words, detecting the influence of climate change on certain species requires long-term observations. Furthermore, the analysis posits that species which had more limited temperature tolerance ranges and relatively longer generation times were reported to be most affected by changes in climate. (Generation times are temporal intervals between the birth of an individual organism and the birth of its offspring).

Seabird species: Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)

How Does Climate Change Affect Marine Life?

From the 484 peer-reviewed studies that matched researcher’s inclusion criterion, 2,215 observations were compiled into a database and mapped. This includes 1,685 observations for seabirds and 530 observations for marine mammals. 54% of observations for seabirds were distributed towards northern hemisphere (39% of observations from temperate and polar regions). For marine mammals, 83% of observations were distributed toward the northern hemisphere (53% of observations from temperate and polar regions). For both seabirds and marine mammals, tropical and subtropical regions represented a mere 8% of total observations.

What Marine Life Is Most Affected by Climate Change?

Authors of the preexisting studies found 38% of total observations to be related to climate change, 49% were attributed to climate variability, and 13% were attributed to both. Reproductive success and adult survival were the most common response variables studied on both taxonomic groups (60% for seabirds and 34% for marine mammals). According to the new review, “a significant majority of observations concluded that climate change had an effect on both the seabird and marine mammal groups for all the response classes”. Response classes include demography, distribution, condition, phenology, behavior and diet.

How Does Climate Change Affect Marine Biodiversity?

The longer the duration of the original studies, the more likely authors were to infer that the observed changes in taxonomic groups were due to climate change rather than climate variability. 189 of the preexisting studies (669 observations) that demonstrated climate change effects had a time span above the estimated average threshold of 19 years. Generally, studies on marine mammals were able to demonstrate climate change responses based on shorter time scales (17± 5 years) versus seabirds (22 ± 3 years).

Ecology of Fungi

Fungi- (singular; fungus) have a true nucleus, meaning that they are eukaryotic organisms and reproduce (both sexually and asexually) by spores. Fungal spores are primarily disseminated through wind. Fungi have crucial ecological roles in transporting nutrients through underground fungal hyphae networks, decomposing dead biomass material and serving as food for some mammals, including us humans. Although, some fungi are poisonous and can cause disease, this serves as a consequence of their vast biological diversity. Fungi come in numerous species and have been found in marine, terrestrial and freshwater environments.

gang of mushrooms growing from soil
gang of mushrooms growing from soil

Fungi Evolution

According to a 2020 study from the Université libre de Bruxelles posits that the first mushrooms evolved on Earth between 715 and 810 million years ago, predating other estimates by roughly 300 million years. The fossilized remains of mycelium in sediments leads Steeve Bonneville, leader of the study and professor at the Université libre de Bruxelles to believe that microscopic mushrooms were associated with early plant predecessors.

However, the origin of fungi are still quite mysterious. Estimates range in the true number of mushroom species that exist, as very few of them have been identified. Recent research suggests that as many as 5 million or more fungal species may exist. John Todd, Canadian ecologist and author of “Healing Earth” asserts that fungi evolved from Protists – one of the six kingdoms of life – about 1 billion years ago. The long history of fungi are telling of their evolutionary adaptability throughout Earth’s climatological and biological changes.

Is Fungi A Plant or Animal?

Fungi were once thought to be entirely immobile, however, some species have mobile phases. Motility has long been conceptualized as a characteristic inherent to plants. Plants are also known to produce their own food. Fungi are similar to animals in that they don’t produce their own food. Like animals, fungi are heterotrophs; in other words use digestive enzymes to dissolve and integrate nutrients. Also fungi do not share the cellulose found plant cells, instead, fungal cell walls contain chitin, which are polycarbohydrates made from chains of glucose. As counter intuitive as it seems, fungi appear to have striking resemblances to animal organisms rather than plants.

Importance of Mushrooms | What Are The Ecological Benefits of Fungi?

The mutualistic symbiotic relationship between plants and photosynthetic organisms – a symbiosis known as mycorrhiza – is one of the most vital support systems for plant growth, including aquatic vegetation like algae. In a mycorrhizal interaction, the fungal mycelia extend a network of hyphae to channel water and nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen to plant root systems underground. In exchange, mushrooms benefit by receiving sugars produced by plants.

Fungi in the saprophyte grouping are important because they act as decomposers in most ecosystems that they are part of and recycle organic matter. Many fungi draw nutrients from dead or decaying content (particularly carbon- and nitrogen-containing compounds) and use specialized enzymes to break down complex molecules, these nutrients are then released into soils and plants. In doing so, fungi accelerate the rate at which deceased organic material degrades and is reabsorbed into the ecosystem by plants and bacteria.

Ecological Community: Networks of Interacting Species

An ecological community is defined as a group species that inhabit the same place and interact with each other in various combinations. In ecology, communities are the biotic components of an environment, including its Archaebacteria, Eubacteria, Fungi, Protista, Plantae and Animalia, these are the six known kingdoms of Earth’s biosphere. The organisms that share a close genetic heritage and/or can potentially interbreed to create offspring are generally considered to be of the same species.

Groups of species that inhabit the same area are referred to as populations; ecological communities consist of all the interconnections among species’ populations. Just like the abiotic factors in an environment – like weather or availability of water – species interactions contribute to natural selection pressures. Natural selection determines which organisms live long enough to reproduce and which do not. Interactions shape the environment and the evolution of species through time.

Community ecology as a discipline seeks to answer questions about how species interact and what drives their patterns of diversity and distribution. The ways in which species interact can range greatly. Species exchange nutrients, consume one another, compete for resources like sunlight and space, and help each other out in some cases. There are five main types of interactions between species: competition, predationmutualismcommensalism and parasitism. These labels are known as interspecific interactions, and they represent how species are affected by other species that they deal with.

Some interactions result in benefits for one species group, and disadvantage the other interacting species group. This interspecific interaction can fit into the parasitism category or the predation category. Interactions of this sort can be simplified as (+/-); the “+” represents the benefit for one species while “-” refers to the detriment to the other. Other interactions can produce mutual benefits for both species, (+,+). In cases like these, its not uncommon for there to be a sort of coevolution at work, where both species have evolved specific adaptations to facilitate the services that they provide while also benefiting themselves. We can apply + and – to further depict how species are affected or unaffected by their relationships to one another: competition (-/-), predation (+/-), mutualism, (+/+), parasitism (+/-), and commensalism (+/0). Commensalism is an example in which one species gains some benefit while the other species loses nothing but also gains nothing.

Competition

Competition (-,-) is an interaction in which organisms of two or more species use the same resource. Any given resource will be limited, and may have significant costs for either of the organisms involved.

Predation

Predation (+,-) is an interaction that involves one species eats (and in some cases also hunts) another (the latter species is often called prey). Some ecologist extend the term predation to include herbivorous consumption. This is because the general principle at play is one species is consuming another.

Commensalism

Commensalism (+/0) is an interaction in which organisms from one species are able to benefit at no cost to the other species that it is interacting with.

Parasatism

Parasitism (+,-) is characterized by the benefit of one species at some cost or harm to members of the a targeted species. Its common for parasitic organisms to live inside, or otherwise attach themselves to the targeted organisms (sometimes called hosts).

Mutualism

Mutualism (+,+) occurs when both of the involved species benefit from the interaction, which may motivate a long term association between them. We explore an example of this type of interspecific interaction below.

Ecological Community Interaction Example

The relationship between pollinators and plants is a classic example of a mutualistic relationship (+,+) that is rooted in a long and intimate coevolutionary relationship. Pollinators visit flow after flower to collect pollen and other nectars which the pollinator uses as food. Bees are a classic example pollinators. Bees, like other pollinators benefit by feeding on nectars and pollens for nutrients. Plants benefit by having their pollen efficiently distributed to other flowers of the same species, this is one way in which flowers pollinate, another way is by wind carrying pollens between male and female flowers. Pollination plays an essential role in plant reproduction. Once a female part of a flower (stigma) receives pollen from a male portion (anthers), fertilization can take place.

bee pollinating white flowers
bee pollinating white flowers

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Homemade Seitan Recipe: BBQ Seitan “Ribs” (Vegan)

Barbeque (BBQ) seitan ribs may be one of the best ways to enjoy seitan. Seitan has a stringy, chewy texture that is often compared to that of meat. Seitan is thus the ideal substitute for meat in a variety of dishes. The benefit is that seitan can be eaten guilt free – as it is made exclusively from pure wheat gluten and therefore is not as resource intensive as animal derived foods. If you want to make some seitan barbeque ribs, feel free to try out our version of it below, starting with the ingredients.

barbeque (BBQ) seitan strips
saucy BBQ seitan strips

The Ingredients:

1 cup vital wheat gluten

1 cup nutritional yeast

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoon garlic powder

½ cup soy sauce 

1 cup of herbal broth (herbs of your choosing; we used 1 part pesto, 1 parts basil, add water)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves of minced garlic

2 teaspoon salt-free seasoning

barbeque sauce of your choosing (we used Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbeque Sauce)

Instructions: How To Make Seitan (Knead Your Gluten)

First, we need to make our seitan strips! You’ll need to combine the vital wheat gluten flour, nutritional yeast, ground ginger, and garlic powder, then add them to a bowl of your choosing. Then start adding water to the bowl of ingredients and stir the combination. Very quickly, you’ll notice that the ingredients are taking on a thick, doughy form. At this point you want to put your mixing tool a way and use your hands to continue to mix the doughy clump. If necessary, add a little water at a time until your doughy form has a bread-like consistency. In a separate bowl, you’ll want to mix your soy sauce and home made herbal broth.

Knead your seitan dough repeatedly for about 10 minutes. Although this will seam like forever, its important to iron out any inconsistencies in the dough. Take a 5 minute break and then knead your gluten seitan dough for 10 more minutes (last time, we promise). and then knead a few more times. Once you’re happy with the dough’s texture and consistency, you’ll separate the dough into 1 inch thick “cutlets”. Each morsel will expand once its cooked, so make sure to stretch them out at this point. To do this, you will gently tug at each cutlet from its ends, stretching it thin. You will want to stretch your seitan thin so that once it expands, it will not be too thick to chew. At this point, you can put your herbal broth and soy sauce mixture to a small pan, and let the mixture simmer over a low flame.

Make sure that your herbal broth is not preheated. You want the picture to be at least room temperature so that your gluten cutlets stay intact and firm. Place your cutlets into the herbal broth, partially cover the top of the pot, and cook on high heat. At this point, you can simply let your cutlets cook, flipping them at least once every 8 minutes or so. Your cutlets will begin to absorb the broth and harden. Now that you can add the tomato sauce to ensure that your cutlets take in more flavor. Once your seitan cutlets are finished cooking, you’ll notice that the center of the strips are firm, as are the ends. Your cutlets are now ready to be introduced to a barbeque sauce of your choosing, and perhaps served as “rib” sandwiches or with grilled vegetables!

Is Seitan (Vital Wheat Gluten) Healthy? | Benefits of Seitan

Seitan is a vegan type of meat alternative that has a reputation for being a dense source of protein and other nutrients – such as omega-6 fatty acids, iron, phosphorus and selenium. Since seitan is made from pure wheat derived gluten, it is packed full of protein. Seitan contains no dairy, which means it is compatible with a low-cholesterol diet plan. Seitan also contains no soy, which means that it is ideal for vegans and vegetarians that have soy sensitivities.

Tell Us What You Think

This recipe was exciting to try out and took 3 tries to perfect! Of course, there is more than one way to do it and we encourage you to add your own original flavors to the meal. If you tried barbeque (BBQ) seitan “ribs” out our way, leave us a comment and tell us what your thought. If you happened to make your own version of this recipe, we would love to give your recipe a try, so please share!

Cowspiracy Ocean Facts Summary

Fisheries harvest marine organisms across the globe. While fisheries do generate food and profit, they could be doing much more harm than good for underwater ecosystems. The film Cowspiracy makes a convincing case for the deleterious affect that large-scale fishing operations have on ocean environments, species variety and species abundance. Cowspiracy depicts modern fishing as a largely unsustainable industry that could lead to fishless oceans by 2048.

fish near water surface
Fish near water surface

Fishing As Depicted By Cowspiracy

Fish and other marine life are mostly hunted as food. However, some species are used for other commodities. Sharks, for example, are sometimes hunted for their skin which can be used in the making of leather. Other species like whales and manatees are regularly harmed or killed unintentionally by getting caught in fishing nets. The Cowspiracy Facts page sites a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) document which states that in the year 2017, between 51 – 167 billion farmed fishes had been killed for food. That same year an estimated 250 – 600 billion crustaceans were also farmed and killed for food. Even animals that are not eaten by humans are caught and killed inadvertently because of drift netting or trawling. Susan Hartland of Conservation Society says that animal populations are being extracted from oceans more quickly than they can recover. Marine species are therefore collapsing under the immense pressures of modern hunting. The unintended catches, sharks, sea turtles and dolphins, are referred to as bykill.

Keystone Species and Trophic Cascades

Apex predators often act as keystone species, meaning that they have disproportionately large effects in their natural environments. This makes the removal of sharks particularly concerning. As top predators, many sharks species exert top down influence in their respective food webs. The removal of sharks, and other keystone species increases trophic cascade risks. Trophic cascades are the ecological chain of events triggered by the removal or addition of top predators.

Agriculture, Fishing and Algae Blooms

“Livestock operations on land have created more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead zones around the world in our oceans…” According to Dr. Richard Oppenlander, an environmental researcher featured in the Cowspiracy film. Water pollution comes in the form of pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, plastics and other waste material. However, animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean pollution – a fact which is stated explicitly in the Cowspiracy film. Animal agriculture run-off upsets nutrient balances in aquatic ecosystems by introducing phosphorus, nitrogen, manure and potassium from chemical fertilizers. These excess nutrients can cause alae blooms, leading to uninhabitable zones for marine species. Blooms of algae drain sunlight and deplete oxygen levels – making the environment unsuitable for most other lifeforms in the ecosystem.

Bottom trawling contributes to inhabitable zones similarly. Bottom trawling, also referred to as “dragging” involves casting a fishing net to the sea floor. Trawling disturbs sediments along the sea floor which causes carbon to be released. Once carbon dioxide is released from sediments, it is then absorbed by ocean seawater. Elevated carbon levels allow water to trap in more heat and further facilitate algae and plant overgrowth.

Cowspiracy Summary: Rainforest Facts

The official Cowspiracy website lists references aimed at supporting the arguments and conclusions proposed in the film on its “Facts” page. The page of supporting documents has 9 categories, including Ocean, Wildlife, Land, Waste, Water, Greenhouse Gases, Rainforest and Humanity. The documents listed in the Rainforest facts section describe the importance of rainforest ecosystems and demonstrate the effect that poor land use – such as monoculture farming, cattle ranching, conversions deforestation and development – have on rainforest ecosystems. We’ve devised a terse summation of the curated Cowspiracy texts with the hope of illustrating the ecological costs associated with land misuse.

Ecological Degradation

Rainforest ecosystems are inhabited by more plant and animal species than any other terrestrial ecosystem. The Cowspiracy Facts page states in one of its Rainforest subtitles that “the leading cause of rainforest destruction are livestock and feed crops”. Clearing forests to make way for land pastures and agriculture feed plots is done in Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador to meet the demand for American beef. Cattle ranching is a low cost, low maintenance operation to run in the tropics. Cattle ranching generates profit for land owners, farmers and distributors.

Nonetheless, livestock feeding plots require sections of forests and other vegetation to be cleared first to make space for pastures and animal crops. Clearing vegetation can increases risks to various processes that rainforest vegetation help carry out, including enhanced water absorption into soils, sequestration of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, summoning rainfall, providing nutrients to plant-consuming species and serving as habitats for arboreal species. These are examples of ecosystem services provided to rainforest environments and the species within them. Services like these emerge from the biological, chemical and physical functions in rainforest environments.

wild tropical flowers
tropical flowers

“What Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” Says About Rainforests

The growth of human populations has driven our demand for food and textiles to rise, which has ramped up animal agriculture in tropical forests. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture approximately 15% of the Amazon forest has been removed due to agricultural practices since 1960s. Of the land being used by humans, 80% of it is dedicated to grazing areas for horses, cattle, sheep, or pigs. Put another way, cattle ranching for agriculture is the central use of land in the Amazon basin, which includes Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, Surinam and French Guyana. These regions are subjected to slash and burn clearing before feeding pastures can be established. Therefore, cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon Basin. On top of that, animal agriculture contributes to methane emissions, ocean acidification and worsened air quality.

Save The Amazon

Savetheamazon.org refers to the plant and animal species of the Amazonian rainforests as its “wealth’. The site posits that up to 80% of developed nation’s diets are sourced from tropical rainforests. Our fruits, (avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, pineapples, and tomatoes) vegetables (corn, potatoes and yams) spices, (cayenne, chocolate, cinnamon, ginger, sugar cane, turmeric) have their origins in tropical ecosystems.

Without these contributions, the diets of developed nations would be severely restricted. Equally as important, rainforests like the Amazon help abate flooding by storing tremendous amounts of rainwater in its plants and soils. However, the continued functionality of tropical rainforests depends on how sustainably we use the land. Harvesting from rainforests at rates faster than they are able to naturally replenish themselves may contribute to permanent changes of the ecological structures within rainforests.

What Environmental DNA (eDNA) Reveals About Migration From The Ocean Twilight Zone

So-called twilight zones, also known as disphotic zones or mesopelagic zones, house vast populations of unexploited fish and unexplored habitats, which make these aquatic regions extraordinarily interesting to marine researchers and conservationists. Environmental DNA metabarcoding may prove useful for learning about organisms that live down in ocean twilight zones and how these species travel. Equally as important, using environmental DNA for sampling can preserve the ecological processes and fragile species that inhabit these middle ocean zones.

What Is The Twilight Zone?

The twilight zone is a layer of water depth that is penetrated by significantly less light than what can be found closer to the water’s surface. For this reason, the twilight zone is cold and quite dark, making it unsuitable for most photosynthetic plant species. Twilight zones can be found around the world and are not unique to any specific body of water. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the twilight zone can be found at a depth of about 200 meters to 1000 meters (650 to 3,300 feet) beneath the water’s surface. This layer range is below the water’s photic layer- the sunlit area, and just above the midnight range.

EDNA Metabarcoding Animal Samples In The Mesopelagic Zone

While some species spend their lives in undisturbed depth range known as the twilight zone, many animals move in and out of it. Species fish, squid and plankton likely swim in darkness to find food or to keep away from predators. These traveling carry environmental DNA signatures with them, which reveals detailed information about the creature. A new study by researchers, Elizabeth Andruszkiewicz Allan, Michelle H. DiBenedetto, Andone C. Lavery, Annette F. Govindarajan and Weifeng G. Zhang simulates the physical conditions that cause environmental DNA samples to move through the twilight zones.

Their conclusion: environmental conditions like currents, wind, and mixing do not significantly impact the vertical distribution of DNA samples. To be precise, their computer generated model demonstrates that eDNA samples didn’t move beyond a 20 meter range of where it was released into the environment. If this model reflects the actual conditions of marine ecosystems in twilight zones, perhaps changes eDNA concentrations can be used to determine which fish species are present at a sea depth or how long species spend at varying depths. This has groundbreaking implications for tracking marine species travel patterns and migration more generally in aquatic ecosystems.

DNA double helix molecule strands
DNA double helix

More On Conservation

There is still much to learn about the carbon sequestration potential, ecological processes and biological diversity profiles of middle ocean twilight zones. Here at eco Treatise, we are quite vocal about the need to protect ecosystems during sampling missions, ultimately disturbing them as little as possible. Sampling techniques like trawling, bait camera trapping and other forms capture carry ethical concerns which could hamper further research.

Twilight zones likely provide ecological services to the network of species that migrate in and out of them, and more permanent inhabitants. In order to preserve full ecological function and avoid disturbing species, researchers will have to prioritize more minimally invasive sampling techniques. Sampling approaches that are minimally invasive to species and ecosystems are more likely to win over public approval.