Category: News Posts

How Pollution Makes Bigger Thunderstorms

Pollution causes taller and bigger anvil-shaped clouds, say experts.

Pollution makes thunderstorms worse by creating bigger, longer lasting clouds and cooling temperatures with their shadows, according to experts.

Computer simulations of cloud data from the western Pacific, south eastern China and Oklahoma showed pollution increased their size, thickness and duration.

Taking a closer look at the properties of water droplets and ice crystals within, the researchers found pollution resulted in smaller droplets and ice crystals regardless of location.

In clean skies ice particles were heavier and fell faster causing the clouds to dissipate. But in polluted skies they were smaller and too light to drop leading to the larger clouds.




Dr. Jiwen Fan, of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington, said: “This study reconciles what we see in real life to what computer models show us.”

Observations consistently show taller and bigger anvil-shaped clouds in storm systems with pollution.

A polluted sky has many more aerosols – natural and manmade particles – making more but smaller cloud droplets.

Researchers have long believed smaller droplets start a chain reaction that leads to bigger, longer-lasting clouds.

Instead of raining down, the lighter droplets carry their water higher, where they freeze. The freezing squeezes out the heat the droplets carry with them and causes the thunder cloud to become draftier.

Dr. Fan said: “Modelling the details of cloud microphysical properties is very computationally intensive so models don’t usually include them.

Polluted clouds have an effect on temperatures, with afternoon thunderstorms lasting long into the night rather than dissipating and trapping heat like a blanket.

In the day the clouds’ shadows diminish sunlight penetration and so keep the Earth cooler.

Accounting for pollution effects on storm clouds could affect the ultimate amount of warming predicted for the earth in the next few decades.

Accurately representing clouds in climate models is key to improving the accuracy of predicted changes to the climate.

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Your Chance To Talk To Astronauts On The International Space Station

The International Space Station is flying hundreds of miles above our heads, but keeping in contact with the astronauts on the space station isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

In fact, ham radio operators can listen, and even speak, to the astronauts every once in a while.

Indeed, anyone with a radio licence and the right equipment can transmit to the crew and talk to them. A licence is not required to listen in, however.




In order to make contact with the space station, the ISS has to be flying overhead, because radio operators need line of sight with the station.

Once they connect, it’s possible the operators could hear comments from the astronauts aboard the station or even talk to them.

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Humans Are Still Evolving—And We Can Watch It Happen

Many people think evolution requires thousands or millions of years, but biologists know it can happen fast.

Now, thanks to the genomic revolution, researchers can actually track the population-level genetic shifts that mark evolution in action—and they’re doing this in humans.

Two studies presented at the Biology of Genomes meeting here last week show how our genomes have changed over centuries or decades, charting how since Roman times the British have evolved to be taller and fairer, and how just in the last generation the effect of a gene that favors cigarette smoking has dwindled in some groups.

Being able to look at selection in action is exciting,” says Molly Przeworski, an evolutionary biologist at Columbia University.

The studies show how the human genome quickly responds to new conditions in subtle but meaningful ways, she says. “It’s a game-changer in terms of understanding evolution.”




Evolutionary biologists have long concentrated on the role of new mutations in generating new traits. But once a new mutation has arisen, it must spread through a population.

Every person carries two copies of each gene, but the copies can vary slightly within and between individuals. Mutations in one copy might increase height; those in another copy, or allele, might decrease it.

If changing conditions favor, say, tallness, then tall people will have more offspring, and more copies of variants that code for tallness will circulate in the population.

With the help of giant genomic data sets, scientists can now track these evolutionary shifts in allele frequencies over short timescales.

Jonathan Pritchard of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and his postdoc Yair Field did so by counting unique single-base changes, which are found in every genome.

Such rare individual changes, or singletons, are likely recent, because they haven’t had time to spread through the population.

Because alleles carry neighboring DNA with them as they circulate, the number of singletons on nearby DNA can be used as a rough molecular clock, indicating how quickly that allele has changed in frequency.

Pritchard’s team analyzed 3000 genomes collected as part of the UK10K sequencing project in the United Kingdom. For each allele of interest in each genome, Field calculated a “singleton density score” based on the density of nearby single, unique mutations.

The more intense the selection on an allele, the faster it spreads, and the less time there is for singletons to accumulate near it. The approach can reveal selection over the past 100 generations, or about 2000 years.

Stanford graduate students Natalie Telis and Evan Boyle and postdoc Ziyue Gao found relatively few singletons near alleles that confer lactose tolerance—a trait that enables adults to digest milk—and that code for particular immune system receptors.

Among the British, these alleles have evidently been highly selected and have spread rapidly.

The team also found fewer singletons near alleles for blond hair and blue eyes, indicating that these traits, too, have rapidly spread over the past 2000 years, Field reported in his talk and on 7 May in the preprint server bioRxiv.org.

One evolutionary driver may have been Britain’s gloomy skies: Genes for fair hair also cause lighter skin color, which allows the body to make more vitamin D in conditions of scarce sunlight.

Or sexual selection could have been at work, driven by a preference for blond mates.

Other researchers praise the new technique.

This approach seems to allow much more subtle and much more common signals of selection to be detected,” says evolutionary geneticist Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

In a sign of the method’s power, Pritchard’s team also detected selection in traits controlled not by a single gene, but by tiny changes in hundreds of genes.

Among them are height, head circumference in infants, and hip size in females—crucial for giving birth to those infants.

By looking at the density of singletons flanking more than 4 million DNA differences, Pritchard’s team discovered that selection for all three traits occurred across the genome in recent millennia.

Joseph Pickrell, an evolutionary geneticist at New York Genome Center in New York City, has used a different strategy to put selection under an even keener microscope, detecting signs of evolution on the scale of a human lifetime.

He and Przeworski took a close look at the genomes of 60,000 people of European ancestry who had been genotyped by Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, and 150,000 people from a massive U.K. sequencing effort called the UK Biobank.

They wanted to know whether genetic variants change frequency across individuals of different ages, revealing selection at work within a generation or two.

The biobank included relatively few old people, but it did have information about participants’ parents, so the team also looked for connections between parental death and allele frequencies in their children.

In the parents’ generation, for example, the researchers saw a correlation between early death in men and the presence in their children (and therefore presumably in the parents) of a nicotine receptor allele that makes it harder to quit smoking.

Many of the men who died young had reached adulthood in the United Kingdom in the 1950s, a time when many British men had a pack-a-day habit.

In contrast, the allele’s frequency in women and in people from Northern California did not vary with age, presumably because fewer in these groups smoked heavily and the allele did not affect their survival.

As smoking habits have changed, the pressure to weed out the allele has ceased, and its frequency is unchanged in younger men, Pickrell explains.

My guess is we are going to discover a lot of these gene-by-environment effects,” Przeworski says.

Indeed, Pickrell’s team detected other shifts. A set of gene variants associated with late-onset menstruation was more common in longer-lived women, suggesting it might help delay death.

Pickrell also reported that the frequency of the ApoE4 allele, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, drops in older people because carriers died early.

We can detect selection on the shortest timeframe possible, an individual’s life span,” he says.

Signs of selection on short timescales will always be prey to statistical fluctuations.

But together the two projects “point to the power of large studies to understand what factors determine survival and reproduction in humans in present-day societies,” Pääbo says.

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Bats Have A Vertical “Blind Spot” When Using Echolocation

Bats are well known for their sophisticated use of sound waves and echoes to navigate through areas riddled with obstacles, but now a new study reveals that their use of echolocation can be hindered in the face of smooth vertical surfaces.

The results, published in the September 8 issue of Science, may help explain why injured or dead bats are often found near buildings.

To navigate through the dark, bats rely heavily on echolocation, where they emit high-frequency sounds and use the returning echoes to detect and classify objects in their environment.




However, when Stefan Greif of Eötvös Loránd University was studying how bats use echolocation to recognize water surfaces, he noticed something odd.

I found that bats sometimes collided with our smooth plate when I temporarily positioned it [vertically along] the wall [while] rearranging the setup,” he explained.

That made me wonder why and how those bats would perceive this unusual situation. After my attention was focused on this issue, I started to notice bats sometimes bumping into a metal information plate at the entrance of a cave where we caught bats.

Furthermore, several observations of bats colliding with smooth vertical surfaces (such as glass windows) suggest that bats have problems recognizing them.

Very few smooth vertical surfaces occur naturally in the wild, with objects such as trees and rocks exhibiting rough and uneven surfaces; however, bats do encounter smooth horizontal surfaces in the form of water.

To explore this issue in greater detail, Greif and his colleague Sándor Zsebők monitored greater mouse-eared bats     ( Myotis myotis) as the animals flew through a continuous, rectangular flight tunnel in the dark.

In the corner of the dark tunnel, the researchers placed a metal plate either vertically or horizontally.

Of 21 individual bats, 19 collided with the vertical plate at least once (on average, colliding in 23% of passes) but never with the horizontal plate.

The researchers found that when the bats collided with the vertical plate, they were producing fewer calls, spending less time in front of the plate, approaching the plate at a more acute angle, and had higher flight speeds relative to the bats that avoided collision.

The authors report similar findings in field experiments outside of caves of three different bat species.

It is surprising and intriguing how under certain circumstances even the most sophisticated sensory systems can be tricked into misinterpretation of its environment,” said Greif.

Now that scientists are aware of this sensory loophole for bats during navigation, he noted, they need to gather reliable data about the regular occurrence and extent of these collisions in natural settings.

In ‘high-risk’ areas, like the vicinity of important bat roosts, we should try to avoid setting up unnecessary smooth, vertical surfaces.

In areas where surfaces like extended glass fronts [exist], we should experiment with mitigation tools like acoustic bat deterrents. These emit ultrasonic sounds, inaudible to humans, that are supposed to repel bats.

Even if that fails and curious bats would check on those sounds, they would be very attentive and hopefully realize the obstacles in their way,” said Greif.

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Sun Unleashes Most Powerful Solar Flare In Years

A major solar flare erupted from the sun Saturday ? one of the most powerful in years ? sending an energetic blast of X-rays from a hotspot of activity that may still belch more solar storms in the days to come.

On the morning of 6 September, from an active group of sunspots called 1121 belched out two huge streams of radiation.

It was the third major flare from the solar hotspot and registered a Class M 5.4 on the scale for sun storms, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center operated by NOAA.




Astronomers who study the sun have five categories of flares: A, B, C, M and X,” explained by skywatching columnist Joe Rao.

The M and X flares are the most potent types and the one that erupted [Saturday] was an M 5.4 which is just about the most powerful flare we’ve seen in many years.

At the time of the flare, sunspot group 1121 was on the limb, or the edge, of the sun’s disk, so any cloud of electrified particles ejected by the flare would not reach Earth, Rao said.

But as the sun rotates, this active region of the sun will be turned more and more toward the center of its disk ? it will be there around Nov. 12 to 13,” Rao said.

If a similar M-class flare erupts around that time, we could be in line to see a very nice display of northern lights a day or two later when the cloud of electrified solar particles reaches Earth.

According to the website Spaceweather.com, which monitors space weather and sky events, the radiation from the solar flare “created a wave of ionization in Earth’s upper atmosphere that altered the propagation of low-frequency radio waves.”

Severe solar flare events can cripple satellites and pose a risk to astronauts in orbit, and also have the potential to knock out power grids on Earth.

NASA recently began a project, called the Solar Shield, to provide early-warning alerts to electricity providers to help limit damage to power utility infrastructure as a result of extremely powerful solar storms.

The sun is currently entering an active period of its 11-year solar weather cycle after a lull in activity.

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How NASA Crews Could Sleep For 6 Months On The Journey To Mars

Existing medical techniques are laying the foundations for an ambitious research project to send astronauts into a deep sleep on a six-month journey to Mars, according to the engineer leading the study.

There’s technology being used in the medical community that could support this – there’s a wealth of data out there to support it,” John Bradford, president of Atlanta-based SpaceWorks, said.

It’s a big step, but it could be adopted for space flight.

The NASA-funded study began 12 months ago, and conjures up images of science fiction – putting astronauts into a deep sleep, or torpor, during the long six-month journey to Mars.




I don’t think that we could go to Mars without something like this technology,” Bradford said.

Putting the crew into a deep sleep, he explained, would significantly reduce the amount of supplies and infrastructure needed to support the long space journey, from food to onboard living space.

The study predicts that putting a spacecraft’s crew into torpor, or stasis state, would cut the mission requirements from 400 tons to 220 tons of equipment and supplies.

Bradford said that the torpor could be achieved by a technique called therapeutic hypothermia, which is already used in hospitals, albeit for a much shorter time period.

Therapeutic, or protective, hypothermia lowers a patient’s body temperature to reduce the risk of tissue injury following, say, a cardiac arrest when blood flow is limited.

In the thermal management system envisaged by SpaceWorks, a tube inserted into an astronaut’s nasal cavity will emit a cooled gas, lowering their temperature by about 10 degrees.

Low-dose drugs will also be administered to suppress their shiver reflex and ease their passage into a deep sleep.

Technologies are already commercially available in this area, such as the RhinoChill IntraNasal cooling system, which is used to induce therapeutic hypothermia after cardiac arrest.

However, SpaceWorks acknowledges that there’s a lot more research needed before someone is placed in a six-month sleep.

Up to now, the longest torpor induced by therapeutic hypothermia is 14 days, according to Bradford.

The engineer said that, while the research aims to wake astronauts just once, at the end of their journey, other sleep durations may be used.

The crew, he explained, could sleep in shifts, with each astronaut in torpor for about two weeks and then conscious for two days, ensuring that one crew member is always awake during the mission.

While in stasis state, astronauts would be fed intravenously with an aqueous solution of carbohydrates, amino acids, dextrose, and lipids, according to Bradford.

They would not have any solid waste – it would be strictly urine,” he said, noting that a catheter would be used to dispose of the liquid.

The medical industry is also developing technologies such as infection-resistant IV lines that could prove useful during the flight to Mars, Bradford said.

The crew could be brought out of their torpor by turning off the cooling gas and shivering suppressant.

Nominally, it would take about two hours to wake somebody,” said the SpaceWorks president.

It would probably take a couple of days (for the astronauts) to get (fully) acclimated – our testing will include cognitive tests to examine their mental faculties when they wake up.”

Bradford estimates that a typical Mars mission will involve a six month journey, followed by a year and a half on the red planet, and a six month journey back to earth.

While NASA has successfully completed unmanned missions to Mars, such as the Curiosity rover, putting humans on the planet is a much more challenging endeavor.

NASA, for example, has a 2035 target for landing humans on Mars, although SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has predicted that people could be on Mars within 10 to 12 years.

SpaceWorks’ Bradford expects to see human Mars missions in 20 years, noting that the deep sleep research project is still in its infancy.

“There’s a ways to go,” he said. “We have concluded the phase one effort, which is developing the initial design, the engineering details, and medical plausibility – we’re now looking at the next steps, which will be continued studies of the engineering challenges.

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Sperm Whales Fight Global Warming With Carbon-Neutral Faeces

Southern Ocean sperm whales have emerged as an unexpected ally in the fight against global warming, removing the equivalent carbon emissions from 40,000 cars each year thanks to their faeces, a study has found.

The cetaceans have been previously fingered as climate culprits because they breathe out carbon dioxide (CO2), the most common greenhouse gas.

But this is only a part of the picture, according to the paper, published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.




Australian biologists estimated that the estimated 12,000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean each defecate around 50 tonnes of iron into the sea every year after digesting the fish and squid they hunt.

The iron is then eaten by phytoplankton – marine plants that live near the ocean surface and suck up CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

As a result of the fertilisation, the whales remove 400,000 tonnes of carbon each year, twice as much as the 200,000 tonnes of CO2 that they contribute through respiration.

By way of comparison, 200,000 tonnes of CO2 is equal to the emissions of almost 40,000 passenger cars, according to an equation on the website of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The whales’ faeces are so effective because they are emitted in liquid form and close to the surface, before the mammals dive, said the paper.

Industrialised whaling not only gravely threatened Southern Ocean sperm whales, it also damaged a major carbon “sink,” the scientific term for something that removes more greenhouse gases than it produces, it added.

Before industrial whaling, the population of this species was about 10 times larger, which meant around two million tonnes of CO2 were removed annually, said the paper.

The Southern Ocean is rich in nitrogen but poor in iron, which is essential for phytoplankton.

The scientists suspect that because sperm whales cluster in specific areas of the Southern Ocean there is a clear link between food availability and cetacean faeces.

This could explain the “krill paradox,” they believe. Researchers have previously found that when balleen whales are killed, the amount of krill in that sea area declines, which thus affects the entire food chain.

The study is lead-authored by Trish Lavery of the School of Biological Sciences at Flinders University in Adelaide.

The EPA’s website, on the basis of a calculation made in 2005, says that a passenger car that is driven for 12,000 miles a year yields annual emissions in CO2 or its equivalent of just over five tonnes.

The future of sperm whales and other species comes under scrutiny next week in Agadir, Morocco, where the International Whaling Commission (IWC) discusses a plan to relax a 24-year moratorium on commercial whaling.

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Los Angeles Is Painting The Streets To Fight Climate Change

Los Angeles is slathering its streets in white sealant to fight the effects of climate change – and if it works, the rest of the US could be next.

California is pioneering the $150,000 scheme to cool down the blisteringly hot streets in August by by turning some of its streets white which can reduce temperatures by up to 15 degrees.

The lighter “cool pavements” and streets reflect as much as 30 to 50 percent of the sun’s energy, compared to only 5 percent for new asphalt, and 10 to 20 percent for aged asphalt.

And with climate scientists predicting that temperatures are only going to rise, measures such as this could be crucial to preventing heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and even heat-related deaths across America.




The average annual temperature in the Southwest has already gone up 1.56 degrees since 1901-1960 and is projected to rise another 4.8 degrees by mid-century and 8.65 degrees by the end of the century if carbon pollution continues unabated.

While California’s three-year spell of hot dry weather has been connected to climate change.

With more ‘extreme heat‘ days predicted by the mid-century, cool pavements may be one of a series of useful tools for reducing heat in American cities which suffer from the urban heat island effect – caused by a lack of vegetation and paved surfaces.

When we look at our vulnerabilities associated with climate change, we know that extreme heat is one of our top concerns,” Lauren Faber, the city’s Chief Sustainability Office, said.

For now, the city is moving ahead a few thousand square feet of cool street at a time for the pilot project. The Bureau of Street Services has budgeted $10,000 per installation, with one in each of LA’s 15 districts.

If successful it could be rolled out state, or even nationwide. But even then, the scheme would still only be applied in the areas that needed it most.

The concept of cool pavements has been around for years, and can be made from traditional pavement materials that are lighter in color, or can be painted with cool-colored coatings or surface treatments for asphalt surfaces.

But it is only now that they are being rolled out in the first scheme of its kinds. Sealants such as CoolSeal have shown around a 10-degree reduction in heat gain.

However, residents in some of the pilot areas, such as Canoga Park where the streets have been slathered with CoolSeal since May, say they have already noticed the difference.

Sealcoats are already a common maintenance practice for parking lots and schoolyards since the asphalt pavement structure degrades over time.

Traditional sealcoats provide a protective layer, keeping water out and helping to slow the oxidation of the asphalt in the pavement structure, while restoring the aged asphalt surface to a jet-black color.

Cool pavement sealants come in different hues, including green, blue and yellow, and their solar reflectance value depends on both color and material.

The benefits of cool pavements extend beyond just cooling the local ambient air. They can also impact global warming and energy loads.

Dark roofs and dark pavements both contribute to global warming by absorbing large amounts of solar energy stored in sunlight, then radiating the energy back into the atmosphere in the form of heat.

LA is also looking at tackling the heat by creating an urban tree canopy and the city is offering free shade trees to residents to cool the area, donating 18,000 free trees last year alone.

The city also enacted an ordinance that requires most new and renovated buildings to install lighter colored roofs with high solar reflectance ratings.

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Could Aquaculture Solve Africa’s Fishing Crisis?

Marine fisheries in Africa are over-exploited, but with the right type of fish and support from NGOs, smallholders could help bring about growth.

Fish is a critical source of dietary protein in sub-Saharan Africa, providing an estimated 22% of protein intake.

But with marine fisheries over-exploited, African fish production is failing to keep up with rising populations.

How should that gap be filled to protect this vital source of nutrition?

Aquaculture can do it, according to experts from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the WorldFish research organization.




But it will only work if there’s a shift away from decades-old approaches to aquaculture development, which uses farm ponds.

For real impact on overall fish production and access, they say, there needs to be a greater emphasis on smallholders joining forces and helping to develop a commercial fish farming sector.

Per capita fish supplies in Africa are dwindling,” says Malcolm Beveridge, director for aquaculture and genetic at WorldFish, one of the CGIAR research centres.

In Malawi, they fell from 10kg to 6kg per person between 1986 and 2006. Aquaculture has the potential to increase supplies of this affordable nutritious food for poor and vulnerable consumers.

Historically, aquaculture development in Africa has targeted the poorest people to address hunger through small on-farm ponds.

This has proven valuable for household food and nutrition security and will continue to have a place.

But on-farm aquaculture isn’t meeting the overall supply gap now, and isn’t likely to do so in future for a rapidly growing and increasingly urbanised population.

Small ponds reliant on meagre household scraps and on-farm waste will produce only a few kilograms of fish per year,” says Beveridge.

This is often important for the family and worth supporting as part of building livelihood diversification strategies. But the benefits rarely extend beyond the household and immediate neighbours.

This partly explains why, to date, African aquaculture has remained insignificant in global terms. Total production was 1,288,320 tonnes in 2010, representing just 2.2% of global production.

Discount Egypt (Africa’s major producer) and the figure for sub-Saharan Africa on its own was just 359,790 tonnes for 2010 – a mere 0.6% of world production.

But things are already changing. It may be starting from a low base, but aquaculture in sub-Saharan Africa is growing: in 2000, production was just 55,690 tonnes, so it saw almost seven-fold growth between then and 2010.

Much of this growth is taking place in countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and Namibia, thanks partly to initiatives such as the FAO’s Special Programme for Aquaculture in Africa and the Nepad action plan for the development of African fisheries and aquaculture, which are providing policy and technical support to a groundswell of aquaculture enterprises.

Spada, established in 2007, stated an aim of increasing aquaculture in Africa by 200% over the next decade. But the extent to which that will impact upon food security depends on how it is achieved.

In theory, more fish should mean lower prices and greater access, but that isn’t guaranteed if production is concentrated amongst a small number of large-scale producers near urban centres, or if the fish is exported.

It’s therefore essential that smallholders help drive the growth, according to Rohana Subasinghe, senior aquaculture officer at the FAO.

This will help ensure that the most food insecure benefit from increased production. But smallholders can’t do it individually, because entry costs can be prohibitive for small-scale producers, who tend to be risk-averse.

Smallholders are extremely important in Africa, but you have to operate on a certain scale in aquaculture,” says Subasinghe.

So smallholders will need to work together in clusters, so they can be more empowered and operate as a group with better market access.

“These SMEs – made up of smallholders – will help keep the ultimate objective of agriculture in mind, which is alleviating poverty and improving food security.

Another factor to get right is the type of fish produced. The vast majority of farmed fish in Africa is freshwater, mainly the Nile tilapia and sharptooth catfish.

These omnivorous fish are relatively easy to raise, and there is strong demand for them. New strains of the Nile tilapia released this year Egypt, Ghana and Malawi are also up to 30% faster-growing than traditional strains, and have been heralded as a leap forward for African aquaculture.

But bigger is not always better, in food security terms.

For development actors, then, the challenge is to provide the right kind of support to aquaculture in different places.

On the one hand, on-farm ponds will remain important and can be developed further to improve household food security.

For the very poorest, this is crucial. Work in Malawi, for example, has shown how successful Integrated Agriculture-Aquaculture can be at the farm level, providing not just the protein from fish but raising overall agricultural productivity.

On the other hand, NGOs can also play a vital role in developing and fostering networks of aquaculture SMEs formed of smallholders, and helping the sector develop in such a way that it contributes to wider food and nutrition security.

Governments have already demonstrated political will, says Subasinghe. Kenya has made aquaculture a core priority in its fisheries department. But it is NGOs who can really help make things happen.

Much of Africa already has the right conditions in terms of soils, water, temperatures and market demand to farm fish successfully.

What’s important now is to shape growth in such a way that it has real impacts on hunger and undernutrition.

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Save The Bees: Here’s How You Can Help

The die-off of America’s honeybee colonies, which are disappearing in droves because of parasites, pesticides, poor nutrition and disease, leave beekeepers scrambling to salvage the vital insects.

The task of solving the honeybee problem, experts say, isn’t isolated to beekeepers. A few changes to home patios and gardens can lend honeybees a much-needed assist.

Last year, a third of the nation’s honeybee colonies died, which is low considering the bigger decreases of the last decade. This doesn’t necessarily mean fewer bees.

Beekeepers can salvage a dead colony, but it comes with labor and production costs.




When colonies die, beekeepers are forced to charge farmers more for pollinating their crops, said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland.

In turn, this could lead to a drop-off in fruits and nuts reliant on pollination.

Bees pollinate one out of every three bites of American food and $15 billion worth of crops annually.

Margaret Lombard, CEO of the National Honey Board, said dwindling colony counts make work harder for beekeepers. She encourages people to buy honey and donate to local organizations supporting them.

But planting specific flowers and herbs to create a bee-friendly yard could be your best option.

Plant pollinator-friendly flowers

Honey bees help transfer pollen from plant to plant for reproduction. Planting a bee-friendly garden of “pollinator-friendly” flowers and herbs for bees to forage can be a game-changer.

The Honey Board recommends plants native to your area. The board recommends the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to find which plants may work best.

For example, in the Northeast, pussy willows and wild geraniums are good options. In the Southeast, look for narrowleaf sunflowers and pasture roses.

Entomologist Emily Kuhns of Scotts Miracle-Gro said the best pollinators can be found by talking to someone at a local nursery.

You want to have a variety of flowering plants that bloom throughout the growing season,” she said.

This will provide a regular and diverse source of nectar and nutrients for pollinators. Native plants are the best to use because they evolved alongside our native pollinators — they were made for each other.

Choose a sunny, not-so-breezy area

Plant your flowers and herbs in a place with enough sun to allow pollinators to grow, but also windless enough to not blow away the delicate-winged pollinators

Set out water

Bees have to drink too.

The Honey Board suggests setting out a “bee bath” in the form of a plate of water . A shallow container with marbles or rocks for bees to land would also work.

Another option is a small bird bath or a decorative rock with spots where rainwater can collect.

Bees spend a lot of time gathering pollen and nectar from flowers, but they also need water,” Kuhns said.

Bees also use water to regulate their temperature, help with digestion and to dilute stored honey.”

Watch the chemicals

Consider the pollinators when using pesticides and insecticides in your garden.

Pulling weeds by hand may work, the Honey Board suggests, and introducing other insects could help fend off pests.

If you do decide to use chemicals, Kuhns said to follow the instructions carefully on the package. People should apply chemicals early in the morning when bees and other pollinators aren’t around.

Also, Kuhns said to not use chemicals while the plants are flowering and don’t spray them in other places where pollinators may land.

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