Jennifer Richardson

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since Mar 18, 2015
Columbus, Texas, USA (Colorado County). Zone 8b, verging on Zone 9. Humid subtropical, drought prone
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Recent posts by Jennifer Richardson

Maybe a locust? Alas, I am terrible at plant ID outside my familiar local knowledge area.
1 year ago
I actually posted the same article in the science and research forum, and you can get the gist of my thoughts there, another commenter linked it above. I think "nutrient collapse" is a fairly alarmist way of phrasing it, but from my reading of the data it does indeed look like increased atmospheric CO2 is responsible for a decrease in nutrient density independent of the already deleterious effects on nutrient profiles we see with industrial ag due to decreased soil quality, commercial fertilizers, short-sighted trends in plant breeding and genetic manipulation, etc. and moreover, CO2 is the factor least addressible by homescale permaculturists, sadly. And for those dependent on large scale industrial ag for their food supply, it only makes a bad situation worse.
1 year ago
I always keep too many roosters because I find their posturing entirely too entertaining. Plus, with my semi-feral flock, the roosters definitely cut down on the frequency of my hens being eaten by predators!
1 year ago
Duane, did you read about the algae experiment in the article or did you read any of the linked journal articles?

I don't normally read Politico so no comment on its bias but the citations are accessible enough, and have nothing to do with Politico.

Obviously algae or most anything else will uptake more nutrients up to a certain limit if they are increasingly available in its growth medium. The point being made by the researchers is that given identical growth media (soils, in real life) plants exposed to higher CO2 concentrations grow faster/bigger but with increased carbohydrate:protein ratios and decreased micronutrient content per unit.

I don't get "the sky is falling" out of that, but I don't think the idea of CO2 affecting plant growth is a very extreme idea!
Marcus, yep, the research focuses on C3 plants, which include wheat, rice, and soybeans. Unfortunately all trees are also C3 plants, as are ~85% of plants on the planet. C3 designation has to do with the Calvin cycle and how the plants fix carbon during photosynthesis.

As I mentioned, they did control for soil quality, mineral content, etc. and used wild plants and heirloom strains to control for some of the issues you mentioned, such as genetic modifications, etc. The FACE methodology is the gold standard for isolating CO2 as a variable so data indicates that this effect is independent from the problems we see from soil depletion, selective breeding for commercial traits, etc. Those things are known problems, what I am getting at here is that increasing atmospheric CO2 is an additional factor which exacerbates those problems and which as permaculturists we are not necessarily "safe" from just because we are forest gardening on healthy soils, for instance.

I agree with you on things like spinach, which is why I mentioned leafy greens in my original post as a potential workaround. Unfortunately very few people in this world get the bulk of their calories from spinach, and the implication of this research is that <em>even for plants grown in a permaculture setting</em>, the micronutrient content and ratio of protein to carbohydrate of a diet consisting of a given number of calories will gradually decline with rising CO2 levels unless the proportions of verious plants in the diet changes. I agree with you that it's basically a dilution effect (like food coloring in water), which means that you must consume ever more calories to get the same amount of nutrition, if all other factors hold steady. This is not ideal, which is why I suggested increasing consumption of very low-calorie foods such as teas/tisanes and leafy greens to compensate.

I also think this has a lot of future research potential, such as: What food plants do not respond in this manner to increasing CO2 levels or do so only minimally (possibly C4 or CAM plants) and does it make sense to grow more of them? How can we feasibly select for plants that take up and store increased amounts of micronutrients, protein, etc.--is this even possible on the home scale? Does the CO2 effect have implications for pest predation (micronutrients are often natural pesticides and sugars often attract pests)?
Agreed, David--most of the research seems to focus on the class of plants that include major staple grains and legumes; probably bad news for global nutrition but not as relevant for permaculturists. Actually, identifying plant species that maybe don't react this way (or not as much) to rising CO2 levels might be an interesting avenue of research. And I agree, I have been aware for years of declining nutrient levels in produce but always put it down to soil quality, chemical fertilizers, new plant varieties etc. I was somewhat perturbed to read that rising CO2 levels were also contributing, since that is more difficult to compensate for than is improving soil or selecting heirloom/wild plant varieties.
I agree, I would like to see data from plants grown in remineralized soils, but they did mention several experiments such as the algae experiment and the FACE experiment which controlled for soil quality and isolated CO2 as the experimental variable, and they looked at wild goldenrod and historical strains of grain to attempt to control for factors such as plant breeding that selects for yield, transportability, etc in favor of nutrition. Not saying that all this is bulletproof, but it does tend to confirm that CO2 is the salient factor, and soil quality and selective breeding at least are not sufficient to explain the altered nutrient profile. They've done controlled experiments, not just population studies; there is more to the data than merely attempting to pass correlation off as causation. However, despite poor soil quality seeming not to be the causative factor based on the data presented, I would like to see the degree to which higher soil quality could compensate for the problems induced by higher CO2 levels.

I would also like to know more about the "sugars" and "carbohydrates" they mention; unfortunately some of the linked peer-reviewed journal articles are paywalled, as per usual, although not all of them, and even the ones that are paywalled mostly have an abstract and (more usefully) a bibliography freely available. I have read some but not all of them and would be happy to discuss them in more depth as time and the annoyance of typing on my cell phone permits (I no longer have a laptop). It might be worth clicking through and exploring if time permits. James, I think your point about the sugar type/content as it relates to pest control is an interesting one and a potential avenue for further exploration.

As for who paid for the research, I can't say at the moment, but it seems that Loladze had difficulty getting funding for years due to the interdisciplinary nature of his research, which surprises me not at all based on my experience of academia, and it looks like at least one of his articles was sent back from peer review three times (ouch!) before being accepted, which may or may not inspire confidence, but certainly doesn't seem to indicate that there is some sort of corrupt conspiracy facilitating him, although I know that anything with the word "CO2" attached tends to make people think there's a political agenda involved.

I think the CO2 hypothesis is plausible and supported by the data, although the research suffers from the same lack of an holistic perspective that almost all mainstream agricultural research does.
Dawn, that sounds like a great plan! I splurged on mine after selling my previous abode in Austin, and I still feel a little guilty/incredulous about the money I spent on it, since I normally spend about $6,000 in an entire year! It is beautiful and has served me well, but I cannot say I would make such a purchase again.
1 year ago
Dawn, sorry for the late reply, I haven't been on Permies recently.

I got my handmade stoneware vessel here, although they are painfully expensive; they also have other nice but less pricey options, includingwood, porcelain, and stainless steel vessels
1 year ago
Interesting article I came across discussing an emerging body of research indicating that as plants have more access to CO2 in the atmosphere, they produce more sugars and carbohydrates and proportionally less micronutrients, protein, etc. Essentially they can grow bigger/faster, but the good stuff gets "diluted" and they move increasingly toward junk food status, and of course this effects animals as well moving up the food chain. One means of improving nutrient status in humans that occurs to me is the increased consumption of very low calorie but micronutrient rich foods such as teas, tisanes, leafy greens etc. since otherwise for a given daily calorie ration one's nutrient intake would gradually decrease inversely to rising CO2 levels. Of course healthier soils etc. help with nutrient density of food but unfortunately this nutrient dilution due to CO2 increase seems to be something that permaculturally grown foods will also be subject to if this hypothesis proves correct. Perhaps testing for and selecting based on nutrient density when breeding new varieties will gain traction? I wonder if you can get your produce tested as you can your soil.