Global environmental impacts of agricultural expansion: the need for sustainable and efficient practices.
The recent intensification of agriculture, and the prospects of future intensification, will have major detrimental impacts on the nonagricultural terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of the world. The doubling of agricultural food production during the past 35 years was associated with a 6.87-fold increase in nitrogen fertilization, a 3.48-fold increase in phosphorus fertilization, a 1.68-fold increase in the amount of irrigated cropland, and a 1.1-fold increase in land in cultivation. Based on a simple linear extension of past trends, the anticipated next doubling of global food production would be associated with approximately 3-fold increases in nitrogen and phosphorus fertilization rates, a doubling of the irrigated land area, and an 18% increase in cropland. These projected changes would have dramatic impacts on the diversity, composition, and functioning of the remaining natural ecosystems of the world, and on their ability to provide society with a variety of essential ecosystem services. The largest impacts would be on freshwater and marine ecosystems, which would be greatly eutrophied by high rates of nitrogen and phosphorus release from agricultural fields. Aquatic nutrient eutrophication can lead to loss of biodiversity, outbreaks of nuisance species, shifts in the structure of food chains, and impairment of fisheries. Because of aerial redistribution of various forms of nitrogen, agricultural intensification also would eutrophy many natural terrestrial ecosystems and contribute to atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases. These detrimental environmental impacts of agriculture can be minimized only if there is much more efficient use and recycling of nitrogen and phosphorus in agroecosystems. (+info)
Nitrogen management and the future of food: lessons from the management of energy and carbon.
The food system dominates anthropogenic disruption of the nitrogen cycle by generating excess fixed nitrogen. Excess fixed nitrogen, in various guises, augments the greenhouse effect, diminishes stratospheric ozone, promotes smog, contaminates drinking water, acidifies rain, eutrophies bays and estuaries, and stresses ecosystems. Yet, to date, regulatory efforts to limit these disruptions largely ignore the food system. There are many parallels between food and energy. Food is to nitrogen as energy is to carbon. Nitrogen fertilizer is analogous to fossil fuel. Organic agriculture and agricultural biotechnology play roles analogous to renewable energy and nuclear power in political discourse. Nutrition research resembles energy end-use analysis. Meat is the electricity of food. As the agriculture and food system evolves to contain its impacts on the nitrogen cycle, several lessons can be extracted from energy and carbon: (i) set the goal of ecosystem stabilization; (ii) search the entire production and consumption system (grain, livestock, food distribution, and diet) for opportunities to improve efficiency; (iii) implement cap-and-trade systems for fixed nitrogen; (iv) expand research at the intersection of agriculture and ecology, and (v) focus on the food choices of the prosperous. There are important nitrogen-carbon links. The global increase in fixed nitrogen may be fertilizing the Earth, transferring significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere to the biosphere, and mitigating global warming. A modern biofuels industry someday may produce biofuels from crop residues or dedicated energy crops, reducing the rate of fossil fuel use, while losses of nitrogen and other nutrients are minimized. (+info)
Use of molecular and isotopic techniques to monitor the response of autotrophic ammonia-oxidizing populations of the beta subdivision of the class proteobacteria in arable soils to nitrogen fertilizer.
This study examined the effects of NH(4)NO(3) fertilizer on the size and activity of nitrifying, autotrophic, ammonia-oxidizing populations of the beta subdivision of the class Proteobacteria in arable soils. Plots under different long-term fertilizer regimes were sampled before and after NH(4)NO(3) additions, and the rates of nitrification were determined by (15)N isotopic pool dilution assays. Ammonia-oxidizing populations in the plots were quantified by competitive PCR assays based on the amoA and ribosomal 16S genes. Prior to fertilizer addition, ammonium concentrations and nitrification rates in the plots were comparatively low; ammonia-oxidizing populations were present at 10(4) to 10(5) gene copies g of soil(-1). Three days after the application of fertilizer, nitrification rates had risen considerably but the size of the ammonia-oxidizing population was unchanged. Six weeks after fertilizer treatment, ammonium concentrations and nitrification rates had fallen while the ammonia-oxidizing populations in plots receiving fertilizer had increased. The rapidity of the rise in nitrification rates observed after 3 days suggests that it results from phenotypic changes in the ammonia-oxidizing bacterial population. Associated increases in population sizes were only observed after 6 weeks and did not correlate directly with nitrifying activity. Phylogenetic analyses of PCR products from one of the plots revealed a population dominated by Nitrosospira-type organisms, similar to those prevalent in other soils. (+info)
Nitrogen pollution: an assessment of its threat to amphibian survival.
The potential for nitrate to affect amphibian survival was evaluated by examining the areas in North America where concentrations of nitrate in water occur above amphibian toxicity thresholds. Nitrogen pollution from anthropogenic sources enters bodies of water through agricultural runoff or percolation associated with nitrogen fertilization, livestock, precipitation, and effluents from industrial and human wastes. Environmental concentrations of nitrate in watersheds throughout North America range from < 1 to > 100 mg/L. Of the 8,545 water quality samples collected from states and provinces bordering the Great Lakes, 19.8% contained nitrate concentrations exceeding those which can cause sublethal effects in amphibians. In the laboratory lethal and sublethal effects in amphibians are detected at nitrate concentrations between 2.5 and 100 mg/L. Furthermore, amphibian prey such as insects and predators of amphibians such as fish are also sensitive to these elevated levels of nitrate. From this we conclude that nitrate concentrations in some watersheds in North America are high enough to cause death and developmental anomalies in amphibians and impact other animals in aquatic ecosystems. In some situations, the use of vegetated buffer strips adjacent to water courses can reduce nitrogen contamination of surface waters. Ultimately, there is a need to reduce runoff, sewage effluent discharge, and the use of fertilizers, and to establish and enforce water quality guidelines for nitrate for the protection of aquatic organisms. (+info)
Examination of slurry from cattle for pathogenic bacteria.
One hundred and eighty-seven samples of slurry from cattle were examined forthe presence of salmonellas, pathogenic leptospires and brucellas. Small numbers of salmonellas, generally less than 1/g., were isolated from 20 samples (11%). These were S. dublin (12), S. typhimurium (4), S. indiana (1), S. bredeney (1), S. cerro (1) and S. unnamed 4, 12:d:-(1). Leptospires were isolated from 56 samples (30%) but none was pathogenic for hamsters. No brucellas were isolated. The results of this survey are discussed in relation to the epidemiology of salmonellosis. (+info)
The effect of storage in slurry on the virulence of Salmonella dublin.
The mouse was used as a model to determine whether storage of Salmonella dublin in slurry and in broth reduces the virulence of the organism. No reduction in virulence of S. dublin stored in slurry for 36 days or in maintenance broth for 70 days was observed. The disease hazard involved in pasture-spreading of slurry contaminated with salmonellas is related to factors other than virulence. (+info)
Farming from a new perspective: remote sensing comes down to earth.
Farmers strive to increase the yield of their fields by adding nutrients and water to the land, and using pesticides to control insects and disease. In addition to bountiful harvests, the results of their endeavors may include elevated amounts of fertilizers in surface waters and aquifers and potential risk to themselves and their neighbors from exposure to pesticides. Precision agriculture is the use of modern information technologies such as geographic information systems, the global positioning system, and remote sensing from the air to reduce the environmental effects of these chemicals while enhancing the productivity of farming. By combining crop yield maps with soil survey maps and remote sensing output, farmers can identify areas that need more or less fertilizer, water, or pesticide. (+info)
Survival of coliform bacteria in sewage sludge applied to a forest clearcut and potential movement into groundwater.
Anaerobically digested dewatered sludge (10 to 15 cm thick) was applied to a forest clearcut as a fertilizer source in northwest Washington on gravelly glacial outwash soil. This sludge is not microbiologically sterile and may contain pathogenic organisms. Fecal coliform bacterial counts in sludge applied in summer (July) fell from 1.08 X 10(5) to 358/g in 204 days and to 0/g in 267 days. Dieoff appeared more rapid in winter (January)-applied sludge, when colnts fell from 1.2 X 10(5) to 20/g in 162 days. Initial death rates were related to sludge temperature, moisture, pH, physical composition, and microbial competition. Aftergrowth of fecal coliforms occurred in warm summer and fall months, but counts were of similar magnitude to background levels in forest soils, where a maximum count of 54/g was recorded. Total coliform counts in fresh sludge ranged from 1.4 X 10(4) to 1.9 X 10(6)/g. Numbers stabilized at 10(3) to 10(4)/g in spring, fall, and summer, with lower numbers in winter. Both total and fecal bacteria moved from the sludge to the soil beneath, but few penetrated past the first 5 cm. The soil acts as an effective biological filter. Few fecal coliform bacteria were recorded in the groundwater, generally being less than 5/100 ml and mostly 0/100 ml. A maximum count of 52/100 ml was recorded. Groundwater contamination from vertical movement of potential pathogens appears unlikely, but hazards from surface runoff and direct handling in the first year may arise. (+info)