College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
On a recent plane trip to Santarem, Brazil, Kirk Winemiller gazed at a vast mosaic of lakes and waterways of the Amazon region. One huge muddy river split into multiple channels, each as wide as the Mississippi river.
The waters house over a thousand species of fish, which Winemiller, a professor in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, studies. The fish are an indispensable food resource and an essential part of the economy in this part of Brazil.
Each winter the rivers and lakes flood and water levels can rise by more than 30 feet, flooding forests and meadows. Researchers have known that fish migrate to flooded areas to feed on fruits, nuts, and seeds, but nobody has yet estimated how access to these resources influences fish production.
Amazon fish populations have decreased in recent decades, and the landscape has changed. Roughly 56 percent of the Amazon forest has been cut between 1970 and 2008.
To quantify the effect of deforestation on fish, Winemiller is working with a team of Texas A&M and Brazilian researchers. Leading the project is Winemiller’s doctoral student Carol Arantes. She is spending the 2013-2014 academic year examining fish specimens and conducting workshops with villagers on sustainable fishing. Once completed, the project will inform the work of government agencies and conservation groups in Brazil.
“The project is looking at the patterns of fish abundance in relation to vegetation in the floodplains, particularly whether or not there are more fish species and more fish biomass in areas where the forest is more intact,” Winemiller says.
“People in the Amazon depend so much on the fisheries,” he adds. “My lab conducts research on rivers in Texas, but we can also take our expertise to other countries to help people confronted with serious natural resource issues.”
Travel and living
Arantes has been renting a houseboat and hiring local fishermen to help catch and catalog fish. She stays at different locations for several days, collects environmental data, surveys fish stocks, processes fish samples, and preserves some samples for later study.
Winemiller and his wife, Leslie, traveled to Brazil during January and February to participate in the final field survey for the project.
“It’s a long day of travel,” Winemiller says. “We first arrived in the Manaus airport, right smack dab in the middle of the Amazon. One is surprised to learn that Manaus is a modern city of nearly 2 million people. From there we flew to Santarem where we headed out on the boat with Carol and her field team.”
They lived on a houseboat with 16 others, including the boat’s crew, local fishermen, student volunteers, and a cook. They slept in hammocks that swayed with the waves on windy, rainy nights.
“The cook was excellent,” Winemiller says. “The fish were delicious, and there were so many different kinds.”
Boating around the river afforded the team a close-up look at scattered villages and farms where people support themselves by fishing and raising livestock.
“There are seasonally flooded pastures that somehow support cows,” Winemiller says. “That was surprising to see along the shore of the Amazon River.”
When the river floods, big barges carry the livestock up and down the river to other pastures or to markets.
Houses in the floodplains are built on tall stilts. Despite the stilts, some houses are flooded with up to a foot of water during the rainy season. One woman said that she found a big lungfish swimming in her living room one year, Winemiller recounted.
Arantes and Winemiller are comparing fish communities from regions that have been deforested with those where the forest remains intact, and they also will analyze the structure of fish communities during the different periods of the flood cycle.
By some counts, 1500 to 3000 species of fish can be found along the main channel of the Amazon. It would take years to survey all the species even in one location, Winemiller says. Arantes aims to focus her analyses on the fishes that are most common within each location.
“It would be a lot easier in a place like the Brazos River, where we only have maybe 40 fish species that are fairly common,” Winemiller says. “But we don’t need large samples. We try to get a few individuals of each species at each location during four different phases of the annual flood cycle.”
By April, Arantes had completed the last of four planned surveys. Now she needs to identify the remaining samples and bring fish samples back to be analyzed in the lab at Texas A&M.
In the lab, the preserved samples will be analyzed for stable isotopes: Ratios of carbon and nitrogen in fish tissues allow researchers to analyze the structure and dynamics of food webs, for example by determining whether a fish is a top predator or an herbivore.
The research Winemiller and Arantes are conducting will help Brazilian natural resource agencies and nongovernmental organizations in promoting conservation. Findings may help them promote the conservation of forests and the sustainable use of other natural resources, including fisheries.
Arantes is also conducting workshops to encourage community-based conservation. The strategies she teaches are aimed at allowing fish to survive long enough to grow and reproduce, which ultimately increases fishery yields. So far, at least two communities have embraced these strategies, and fish stocks are rebounding.
“They have monitored and limited their fishing effort and had a lot more fish and bigger fish,” Winemiller says. “That’s a preliminary finding without formal data analysis, but that’s encouraging. It means you really can manage more effectively. Hopefully this will convince people living on the Amazon floodplains to adopt better management practices.”
“I told you how huge the Amazon system is,” Winemiller says. “You wouldn’t believe that humans with small boats and nets could make an impact, but they really can.”
This story was originally published by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
You can support Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation.
Steve Blomstedt ’83
Director of Development
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
VERNON – Using mesquite biomass for electricity generation may become economically feasible if ecological and agricultural factors are considered, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research paper being published in the BioEnergy Research journal.
“Economic Feasibility of Mesquite Biomass for Electricity Production: Projections of the Long-term Sustainability of Two Harvest Options” will appear in the April issue of the journal.
The paper was written by AgriLife Research personnel Dr. Jaesung Cho, postdoctoral associate; Dr. Seong Park, economist; Dr. Jim Ansley, rangeland ecologist; and Dr. Mustafa Mirik, associate research scientist, all in Vernon.
Their study estimated the long-term economic feasibility of mesquite biomass in electricity production under five different harvest scenarios, Park said. They examined variations in rates of standing biomass accumulation and tree density re-establishment after harvest using an above-ground-only or whole-plant harvest option.
Other work by Ansley has shown the heating value of mesquite is nearly equal to low grade coal.
The ecological and agricultural benefits of harvesting mesquite for bioenergy make it a potentially viable alternative to coal, Park said. More traditional income from these lands, such as livestock grazing and hunting, would be enhanced, and mesquite control costs would be reduced.
Current control methods of mesquite include herbicide sprays, mechanical treatments and prescribed fire, Ansley said. Herbicides and mechanical treatments can be costly for landowners. And prescribed fire, the least expensive option, has limited use due to the smoke distribution and higher risk of damage to non-target areas, especially during drought.
Increased grass production would lead directly to increased agricultural income through grazing by cattle, and leaving patches or strips of unharvested mesquite among harvested areas would increase wildlife habitat, he said. Mesquite reduction also could lower soil erosion due to the increased grass cover and increase off-site water yields into rivers and streams.
However, the researchers found some drawbacks to using mesquite as a bioenergy feedstock for electricity production. Re-growth and harvesting costs vary greatly, depending on the harvesting methods, rainfall and soil type. This can disrupt the supply of mesquite biomass for a power plant.
A previous study showed the re-establishment of mesquite biomass from emerging seedlings following whole-plant harvest would take considerably longer than regrowth from a plant with above-ground only harvest, Park said. The whole-plant harvest technique is considered to be less expensive compared to the above-ground harvest due to the difference in harvesting procedures.
However, the much greater re-establishment rate that occurs with the above-ground harvest options makes this more economically viable than the whole-plant harvest option, he said.
Mesquite also has a low applicability in existing power plants due to the high lignin content and its fibrous structure, Ansley said. Due to this structural limitation, mesquite biomass cannot be burned completely in the conventional firebox of existing power plants because coal mills cannot effectively produce a powder from the woody biomass.
The study determined pre-treatment techniques, such as torrefaction, which is a roasting of the wood to dry it down, and pelletization, may be required to increase the grindability, combustibility, uniformity, density, handling ability and energy efficiency of mesquite biomass during the electricity generation process, he said. This generates additional production costs.
Park said they concluded that, given the regrowth characteristic of mesquite and structural limitation of the biomass, a cost-effective processing method must be determined before recommending mesquite as a potential bioenergy feedstock.
Overall, he said, the study determined the above-ground harvest method, with 17 years of rotation length before re-harvest of the brushy regrowth, generated the largest economic returns to a power plant. It was more economically viable than a whole-plant harvest plan because of the much faster re-establishment rate before the next harvest. Frequency in the whole-plant harvest option could be as long as 40-50 years.
In addition, the above-ground harvest option was more viable because tree density would never decline – essentially all trees would re-establish shoots immediately after harvest – whereas, in the whole-plant option, the tree density level would have to be re-established from new seedlings, Ansley said.
“Regarding the economically optimum 17-year rotation for re-harvest in the above-ground scenario, this might be too long for ranchers interested in livestock grazing,” he said. “Typically, grass used for grazing will flourish for seven to eight years after mesquite is harvested, but at about 10 years, mesquite regrowth begins to out-compete grasses for water and light.”
So from a livestock production standpoint – and a selling point for ranchers to commit their pastures to periodic mesquite harvest in the above-ground scenario – harvesting every 10-12 years would be more attractive, he said.
Therefore, a biomass operation based on the above-ground harvest scenario may have to settle for a less-than-optimum harvest cycle to meet the needs of other income streams on a particular property, but would still be better in the long run economically than the whole-plant harvest option, Ansley said.
This article was originally published by Texas A&M AgriLife.
Steve Blomstedt ’83
Director of Development
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Livestock producers pondering stocking rates now have an app to help them determine that ratio, according to experts.
GrazingCalc is a new mobile smartphone application developed by personnel at Texas A&M University’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, and Ecosystem Science and Management units of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
“One of the most common problems livestock managers deal with is determining the best number of livestock to have on the land without harming their resources,” said Blake Alldredge, an AgriLife Extension associate in College Station. “That task has just become easier with the release of this new app.”
GrazingCalc is now available for iPhone and other Apple devices at the iTunes Store at, Alldredge said.
“Being overstocked beyond what the land can handle may lead to overgrazing,” he said, “resulting in issues such as decreased forage production, erosion problems and degraded wildlife habitat,”
GrazingCalc is applicable anywhere because it is based on actual forage production as measured by the rancher, said Dr. Megan Clayton, an AgriLife Extension range specialist in Corpus Christi who, with Alldredge, developed the content of the app.
“Ranchers may need to do some work to obtain forage production on their property,” she said, “but it is easily done, and a video within the app demonstrates how to obtain this forage production value from their land.”
GrazingCalc allows ranchers to manipulate the number of types of animals, grazing months and remaining available forage.
Funding for the development of this app was provided through a Renewable Resources Extension Act grant from the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.
This story was originally published in AgriLife Today.
You can support research in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at Texas A&M with the gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. Request your A&M Support Kit to learn how you can help.
Steve Blomstedt ’83
Senior Director of Development
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Citrus does more than create jobs and pump money into the economy of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. It’s a way of life, a cultural staple dating back 100 years, part of the landscape and fabric of what makes extreme South Texas what it is, according to a plant disease expert. He’s now asking the people of the Valley to help keep the citrus industry from disappearing.
“We can see what’s happening to the citrus industry in Florida,” said Dr. Olufemi Alabi, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service plant pathologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. “The citrus industry in Florida is fast collapsing, due to a devastating disease called huanglongbing, or citrus greening. But here in South Texas, we can still fight this thing.”
The Rio Grande Valley’s citrus industry employs more than 1,000 people, earns growers $72 million annually, and has an economic impact of $134 million, according to Dr. Luis Ribera, an AgriLife Extension agricultural economist in Weslaco.
Citrus greening disease, which doesn’t harm humans but can wipe out entire orchards, has recently been found recently in a third area of the Valley, in La Blanca, a few miles east of Edinburg, on residential property. The bacterial disease has no cure yet, but Alabi believes that if everybody does their part, the Valley’s citrus industry can be saved.
Read the rest of this entry »
Cancer afflicts about four of every ten people at some point in life, according to the National Cancer Institute. Texas A&M AgriLife Research has taken part in the worldwide efforts to eradicate this strikingly common and often deadly disease.
“AgriLife Research has a broad mandate to help address food, fiber, and environmental issues facing Texans,” said Director Craig Nessler. “Our scientists recognize the connection between diet and disease, study the biological underpinnings of cancer, and create new treatments. They have made extraordinary contributions toward battling cancer.”
AgriLife Research scientists are discovering the protective properties of foods, finding new ways to diagnose and treat cancer by studying molecular processes in cells, and testing and designing drug candidates.
Some AgriLife researchers are seeking ways to prevent cancer by focusing on the potential of foods to protect against the disease. Mangos, for example, contain compounds that reduce inflammation in normal cells and are toxic to breast cancer cells, AgriLife researchers have found.
Dr. Susanne Talcott, a nutrition scientist at AgriLife Research, led the studies on polyphenol compounds found in mangos. These compounds suppressed the multiplication of cancer cells and the growth of tumors in mice. The polyphenols work by changing the abundance, in cells, of certain proteins and microRNAs important to cancer cell proliferation. Talcott presented the results at a Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology meeting in April 2013.
The studies “have moved us closer to determining whether mango polyphenols will have cancer-fighting effects on human beings,” Talcott told an AgriLife Today writer. Read the rest of this entry »
Dr. Sorin Popescu is developing a unique way to get up close and personal with forests.
Popescu, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist in College Station, is working with a team to build an octocopter or unmanned air vehicle complete with a camera stabilization platform, autopilot and cameras with multispectral capabilities.
He said there is a growing interest in unmanned air vehicles or unmanned air systems, called UAVs, that can be used in many areas, from mapping floods to fires and monitoring them in real time from low altitudes without exposing aircraft or people to dangerous situations. Also, it helps with repeated data collection tailored to specific needs and monitoring in many fields, including forestry.
Popescu’s teaching in Texas A&M University’s ecosystem science and management department and his research centers on using remote sensing to study forests. However, until now, data availability for his research has been limited by the aerial equipment he could rent and the random timing of satellite images.
The eight-rotor vehicle was selected because it allows for the added payload of the cameras and other equipment. Once his retrofitted octocopter is completed, he will be able to go where he needs to and when he wants to gather information. Read the rest of this entry »
Did you forget Valentine’s Day? Not to worry, you can still make your Valentine feel special this year with a Texas A&M rose!
Color, fragrance, and flower size – these are all characteristics to think about when selecting that perfect rose for your significant other. These are also some of the same traits that the Texas A&M Rose Breeding and Genetics Program considers when developing new varieties of heat tolerant and disease resistant roses.
With the hot, humid climate in College Station, growing roses in your garden can prove to be a challenge. Luckily, the rose breeding program is addressing the environmental challenges by mining the vast genetic diversity that exists in the genus Rosa to produce beautiful, carefree roses that thrive in all climates. In Texas, this means breeding rose varieties that are resistant to diseases, such as black spot and powdery mildew, and capable of withstanding the stress of heat.
Sounds like a perfect rose shrub, right? Well, breeding such a hearty rose is no easy task. “To breed robust roses, we must crossbreed with wild, once-blooming rose bushes,” explains Dr. David Byrne, professor and Basye Endowed Chair in Rose Genetics. “Wild rose bushes are highly disease resistant, but only flower in the spring. By crossbreeding the wild plants with our ornamental, everblooming rose shrubs, we are able to produce varieties that are both disease resistant and will bloom multiple times a year.”
Gulzar Akhtar, Mandy Yan, Jake Ueckert, and Tiffany Dong, graduate students in the Rose Breeding and Genetics Program evaluate a rose bush for its heat tolerance and landscape quality at the Moore Rose Test Garden maintained by Sevelle Farms in Mansfield, Texas. Photo provided by Dr. Byrne.
The rose breeding program is now three generations out from the wild rose bushes. At this stage, researchers can now focus on the aesthetic traits of the flower, such as size, color, and fragrance. “We’re working to increase the size of the flower, adding more colors to our spectrum, and making the flowers more fragrant,” says Dr. Byrne.
Though the flower is one of the first things to catch your attention on a rose shrub, the plant that holds the flower also plays an important role in keeping the roses everblooming. “The flower is only part of the package,” says Dr. Byrne. “When breeding roses, we must also focus on producing a landscape quality plant that is sturdy enough to continuously generate flowers and is appealing enough that people will want to plant it in their garden.” Read the rest of this entry »
Many Aggie sports fans are familiar with the name Terrence Murphy and remember his dazzling plays on Kyle Field from 2001-2004. As owner, founder and CEO of the Bryan/College Station real estate company TM5 Properties, Murphy is now making a name for himself in the community for a different reason.
“My interest in real estate started when I interned with a homebuilder during the NFL offseason,” said Murphy, who graduated in 2005 from Texas A&M University with an agricultural development degree and business minor. “I never imagined that that interest would lead to what TM5 Properties is today.”
Murphy credits the close-knit community and the exciting experiences he had as a student for drawing him back to Aggieland. “BCS is truly a great place to raise a family,” he said. “The people genuinely want to see each other do well in life and you cannot trade that type of community for anything.”
He says his long-term goals are for TM5 to finish at the top of the Aggie 100 list one day and for the company to be the number one real estate brokerage in Bryan/College Station when it comes to the residential market. As a boutique real estate brokerage, they completed more than 400 transactions in 2013 with only 10 full-time agents. Along with the success and growth of TM5, Murphy personally completed 75 transactions with a total sales volume of more than $20 million in 2012. In only his third year of business, this ranked Murphy in the top 1 percent of real estate agents in the Bryan/College Station market. With projections for a record year in 2014, there’s no stopping the TM5 team yet.
To Murphy, the growth of TM5 Properties is about more than topping the Aggie 100 list. He hopes to use his business and career success to mentor student athletes, who he says are leaving college with unrealistic expectations for the future. He aims to show them that a life of substance is what matters and that they can have a career after athletics.
“The truth is that less than one percent of all Texas A&M athletes are going to go pro,” he said. “If you can get kids to understand that, then you can help them prepare for their careers.”
To address this, Murphy personally mentors current and former Aggie athletes. “When they contact me, the hard part is helping them find their passion,” he said. “For an athlete that’s always been good at something it’s hard that they may have to start back at the beginning and maybe not be good at something yet.”
This semester, Murphy partnered with the athletics department to participate in the first-ever career fair geared specifically to Texas A&M student athletes. He is also writing a self-help book to guide them. The book, he says, will give back by sharing his story with life principles rather than focusing on his athletic career.
“God wanted to test my faith and make me an example to others,” Murphy said. “He brought me from humble beginnings to pioneering these things for a reason. This isn’t just for me. Not for my glory and just for my family, but for the student athletes that are coming. My heart is with them.”
Murphy hopes that he inspires others and student athletes to follow their dreams. “Real estate reminds me a lot of football because no one controls your destiny but you,” he said. “If you put in the work, you will see the results. Never let someone tell you that you cannot achieve something.”
Search listings, contact an agent and learn more about the company at the TM5 Properties website.
Texas A&M Foundation
You can support students in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at Texas A&M with the gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. Request your A&M Support Kit to learn how you can help.
Patrick Williams ‘92
Director of Development
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Markers differentiating cotton lines are essential to applying genomic technologies in breeding research, he said. For maximum utility, the DNA markers must be numerous, variable among breeding lines and relatively cheap to screen and use. Across all crops, SNPs are the most numerous, widely distributed type of DNA marker. They also are the least expensive to use for most purposes.
“Breeders of cotton and other crops traditionally create genetic advances by hybridizing, inbreeding and selecting,” Stelly said. “We hybridize lines with prospectively complementary genetic differences and sift through subsequently inbred generations to find genetically recombined lines with attributes superior to both parents.”
A new breeding product must be equal to or better than all other available cultivars to compete well in the marketplace, he said. To enhance the odds of finding excellent genetic recombinants, breeders almost always rely on parents that are themselves elite and, as a result, closely related.
In this cotton breeding field, the red Upland cotton rows separate different chromosome substitution lines of Upland cotton that each contain a different pair of alien chromosomes from a different wild non-cultivated species. Each line contains about 2,000 new genes not found in cultivated cotton. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)
Even so, the breeder’s selection process must be comprehensive, Stelly said. Lines must be tested in diverse growing environments and address all important traits, involving multiple genes, many of which are expensive to evaluate. Some processes can be significantly aided by molecular markers, including parental selection, dissection of genetically complex traits and selection for beneficial genes and regions. Read the rest of this entry »
More than 135 acres of prairie wetland habitat have been restored near Houston with a new method that may help additional acreages be recovered, according to experts with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
The prairie wetlands at Sheldon Lake State Park have been restored over a 10-year period using a novel approach of re-excavating soil covered up by other land-use situations, particularly agriculture, said Marissa Sipocz, AgriLife Extension wetland program manager in Houston.
“The method we have used has changed how freshwater prairie wetland restoration and creation will take place along the Gulf Coast,” Sipocz said. “The genius of this method relies on its simplicity: re-excavation of the original soils.”
The prairie wetlands at Sheldon Lake State Park have been restored. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service)
The method, called “Sheldon-Sipocz,” uses high-tech, precision equipment to dig added soil out of an area until the original soils are exposed. These hydric soils are more conducive to the growth of plants that thrive in shallow water.
The method was pioneered by Andy Sipocz, biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Prior to this method, wetland areas were commonly created by digging a depression or pond randomly on the landscape, often not in the type of environment and soils that encouraged wetland plant growth, Marissa Sipocz explained.
She said beginning in 2003, AgriLife Extension partnered with Texas Sea Grant, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin restoration of the Sheldon Lake State Park.
Originally built in 1942, the eastern side of Sheldon Lake Reservoir was later drained and leveled for farming until the 1970s when it was designated a wildlife management area. It became a state park in 1984, and the land management goals shifted from providing hunting and fishing opportunities to being a landscape conservation and restoration area.
“The goal was to transform the park into a recreational haven within the city limits of Houston,” Sipocz said, “and to provide the public with a glimpse of the region’s natural landscape.” Read the rest of this entry »