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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Which trees produce the most oxygen?

An interesting question for sure, and though the answer is not yet known, in the excerpt below from an article / post by Anna Fraser, webmother of The-Tree.org.uk, she mentions that the contenders may include such diverse tree species as Monterey Pine, Hybrid Poplar, Eucalyptus and Fig:

Pick a tree that you are interested in and research the annual wood production for this species in the geographical location of your choice (the figures available are most probably given per hectare or per acre rather than per tree). Find out the energy value of the wood and the annual caloric intake of a human being. Using these figures, you can calculate what you would need to produce enough oxygen for one human being without even knowing how much oxygen they produce.

NASA does research on this using crops and they can produce enough oxygen for one human being with 20 square metres of land.

However we can of course speculate, keeping in mind that trees produce excess oxygen whilst growing and putting on wood (of course when they decay in old age the reverse will be true). Therefore the biggest oxygen producers will be the trees which have the fastest ability to convert the air and the soil they feed on into wood.

Opinions are divided which tree deserves this accolade and the reason for this disagreement is that the growth pattern of trees is inevitably affected by local conditions, such as poor or rich soil, sunshine wind and humidity, which side of the hill does it grow, what helpful fungi are there in the soil and various other factors. A Douglas Fir that can grow up to an amazing 300 ft in a given period in Oregon, may 'only' grow a 100 feet high in the south of California in that same period, because trees have their favourite spot, where conditions for their growth are optimal.

Presently the contenders for the fastest accumulation of square feet of timber in the trunk are Pinus radiata (Monterey Pine). This has shown amazing growth of 8 to 10 feet a year in favoured conditions. It originates from a small coastal area in California and is one of the most popular timber trees in the southern hemisphere, particularly South America.

Hybrid Poplar (cross between European Black Poplar and the North American Eastern Cottonwood). This can also grow of the rate of 8 ft a year in favourable circumstances. Other fast growing trees that deserve a mention are Chitalpa, Chinese Elm, Eucalyptus, Locust tree, and Fig tree, not necessarily in any particular order.

There are of course also genetically engineered trees in the making, which will be trying to break all records. An example is the "Supatree", which is experimentally grown in a remote place in Australia. Investors in the genetic engineerin industry are told that this tree aims to grow as much 30 to 35 feet in the first year and will accomplish in 10 years time what a regular forest plantation tree takes 75 years to do.

This sounds fantastic in a world with dwindling resources (due to growing populations and the silly consumer attitude we have towards the natural world), but please remember that this is a tree which has been engineered far more for business interests, rather than with the Good of the Whole World in mind.

In my opinion the world needs biodiversity and its inherent creativity for survival of the Earth on which we all depend and therefore food and resource security. This is far more important than identical clones, which depend on fertilizer and fossil fuel based growing practices.

Maybe we will be forced to grow Supatrees if we carry on the way we are and squander our precious heritage. If I were a judge with blinkers on, ignoring the real needs of the Earth and therefore people, Supatree would no doubt they would be the winner of your contest as oxygen producers during growth.

But will the world be a better, safer or richer place with Supatree plantations all over the world???

I really appreciate your genuine search for the highest oxygen producing tree, but please allow me to suggest also that oxygen is not the only gift the trees to the wellbeing of the patients of a tuberculosis hospital. Nor necessarily the most important: trees clean air pollution in many different ways and heal also by their presence.

Trees have always been our friends, healers and providers .There is of course infinite beauty in trees and woodland, but there is far more to it than that:
There is something about the aura of trees, that can make you feel as if you're in the presence of a being greater than ourselves. I don't mean greater in statue, but in a knowledge deeper and wiser than most people have.

Few people fail to be impressed by wonderful beings like the Dalai Lama and feel better for meeting him. But many trees are to me like Dalai Lama's and everyone can seek their healing friendship.

Trees seem to know that the Earth is all one. One giant interacting web of life. The divisions between us are artificial and temporary. As a separate identity I give my own contribution to the consciousness/vibes of the Earth, but since I exist only by the grace of inhaling air, drinking water, eating food, interacting in countless ways to make my consciousness grow: How can I think I am not intimately related to everything else?

Full article / post continues at: Which tree species produces the most oxygen?

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Penn State U researchers says virus causing honeybee deaths

Breakthrough on mystery of vanishing honey bees

by Am Johal

article from: http://nation.ittefaq.com/issues/2007/12/31/news0019.htm

Over the past year, honey bees have been dying across North America in unprecedented numbers and, until this month, no one seemed to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what the cause may have been.

What has been dubbed "colony collapse disorder" can work through a honey bee colony in a matter of weeks. Bees fly off to collect pollen, but never return -- or simply weaken and die in the hives. Beyond the larger effects on the food chain, the economic implications of these deaths are immediate because honey bees are integral to the pollination of tens of millions of dollars of cash crops in North America.

Scientists from Penn State University say they have found a connection between Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and colony collapse disorder. In a conference call last week, researchers argued that the virus, in conjunction with other stress factors, is likely the cause of the disorder, which has resulted in a loss of 50-90 percent of North American bee colonies. It was originally discovered in Israel in 2004, the same year that Australian bees were imported in to the United States.

Colony collapse disorder has also been observed in Poland, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, and unverified reports have surfaced in Switzerland and Germany. Cases have also been reported in India and Brazil.

David Hackenburg, a beekeeper near Tampa Bay, Florida, lost nearly 2,000 of his 3,000 hives in a matter of weeks last winter. He has since been raising the issue with university researchers, bureaucrats at state agencies and elected politicians. He has told a number of media outlets that new synthetic nicotine-based pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, are the major contributing factor. Researchers told IPS that further studies will include these pesticides as possible contributing factors. Some large environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, also believe that genetically modified food production could be a contributing factor. A comprehensive British study found that genetically modified crops in conjunction with powerful chemicals were harmful to bees, butterflies and birds.

Researchers from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and other U.S. states have been conducting geographic database tests to understand the magnitude of the problem and whether linkages exist with colony collapse disorder.

But other scientists argue that there is scant evidence that the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin produced by genetically modified crops is a factor in the mass deaths of bees.

According to Science Daily, a team of scientists from Edgewood Chemical Biological Centre and the University of California at San Francisco have identified a virus and a parasite that are likely culprits in the recent deaths.

Penn State University's Colony Collapse Working Group had drawn no clear conclusions as to what the causative factors may be until this week. In July 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a "Colony Collapse Disorder Action Plan" which states, "The current strategy for addressing the CCD crisis involves four main components: 1) survey and data collection; 2) analysis of samples; 3) hypothesis-driven research; and, 4) mitigation and preventative action."

Dr. Mariano Higes, a scientist based in Guadalajara, Spain, has concluded that European honey bees suffering from colony collapse disorder fell victim to Nosema ceranae, a micro-sporidian fungus. The research team led by Higes has been investigating the issue since 2000 and ruled out any other causes. U.S. scientists have stated that although it may be a factor, it is not the only cause of the disorder.

Eric Mussen, a University of California Davis apiculture expert, believes that small variations in weather caused by climate change could affect the water, nectar and pollen the bees rely on. Mussen also argues that bees have many viruses, but it is their weakened immune systems that are making them susceptible to death. The first cases came to public view in late 2006. Since then, speculation has ranged about the causes from a diverse set of theories which range from new pesticides, genetically modified crops, agricultural products, climate change, viruses cell phones.

In the 1940s, there were an estimated 5 million managed bee colonies in North America. Now there are just over 2 million. Adverse weather conditions and hurricanes have also contributed to the heavy losses of bee colonies in recent years.

For example, the almond season begins in February for the bees, a cold season in North America which can affect their endurance. The economy of the almond season is particularly lucrative for those raising bee colonies. Migratory beekeeping is also widespread in the United States. Beekeepers earn more money renting bees out for pollination than they do from honey production. Bee keepers often truck their colonies to Florida, Texas, California and other states. Migratory beekeeping has been in practice in the United States since 1908. Climate change could also be a factor in weakening the bees and has affected the pollination of crops in many agricultural areas in North America. The value of crops for which honey bees are the prime pollinator is estimated to be in the 15-billion-dollar range in the United States. California's almond industry alone, which relies on pollination from honey bees, is worth 1.5 billion dollars.

Honey bees are not native to North America. Though indigenous plants can survive without them, the pollination from honey bees is instrumental for growing fruit and vegetables like apples, cherries, tomatoes, zucchinis, cantaloupes and many other crops. Dr. Leonard Foster, a University of British Columbia Assistant Professor of Biochemistry told IPS, "There is certainly something happening in the United States and it is difficult to say if it is due to a bacteria or fungus -- it is difficult to detect with the current methods."

"It could be various factors combined, but it is difficult to verify at this time -- climate change, antibiotics or the use of pesticides where bees may visit. We have various historical records that show that there are fluctuations with beehives every seven or eight years that are affected by weather conditions and crop yields. It is too early to draw conclusions yet."

Troy Fore, president of the American Beekeeping Federation, told IPS, "Lately, we haven't heard much since it is the summer season. The losses seem to be associated with the winter as it's the natural end of a colony's life cycle."

"I hear from beekeepers, but many have been damaged earlier in the year. The colonies that have been affected are not as productive," he added. "But we still have no smoking gun."

(This story is part of a series of features on sustainable development by IPS and IFEJ - International Federation of Environmental Journalists.)

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