Kiwis are increasingly believing in climate change

New research from Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Auckland has found New Zealanders’ beliefs in climate change and that humans are causing it are increasing over time.

The study, carried out by Victoria’s Dr Taciano Milfont and Professor Marc Wilson, and Auckland’s Professor Chris Sibley, examined key climate change beliefs from 2009 to 2015.

The two beliefs investigated were whether people believe climate change is real, and whether they believe climate change is caused by humans, says Dr Milfont, who led the study.

“We found that the levels of agreement to both beliefs have steadily increased over the six-year period. This increase in belief has been most pronounced in more recent years, from about 2013 onwards.

“Overall, belief in the reality of climate change was higher at all times than agreement with the idea that climate change is caused by humans. But people who tended to increase their level of agreement in one climate change belief also tended to increase their agreement level in the other belief.”

The research used data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, a national probability sample study that has been tracking New Zealanders’ social attitudes, personality and health outcomes since 2009.

“It’s the first longitudinal study indicating that climate change belief is increasing over time,” says Dr Milfont.

“Past research has relied on a snapshot of data from one-off public opinion polls. But data from opinion polls are based on distinct individuals. We are the first to examine whether climate change beliefs held by the same group of individuals, in this case, more than 10,000 New Zealanders, are changing or not.”

 Dr Milfont says the observed increase in climate change beliefs could be attributed to a number of factors.

Some studies suggest climate change beliefs and concerns may change after exposure to extreme weather events as well as mainstream media and awareness campaigns.

Other studies suggest political affiliation and political ideology are the main predictors of climate change belief . They suggest the observed increase in climate change beliefs is greater among politically liberal individuals.

“We expect that levels of climate change beliefs will fluctuate over time. With the ongoing nature of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, in the future we will be able to pinpoint whether particular socio-economic circumstances directly result in fluctuations on climate change beliefs.”

This research, recently published in the international journal PLOS ONE, was supported by a Templeton World Charity Foundation grant to Professor Sibley and a Marsden Fast-Start grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand to Dr Milfont.

Research jointly co-ordinated by Dr Milfont in 2015 found that if people from 24 countries believe that addressing climate change will result in a more caring and moral community, they are more likely to take action.

Because  climate change beliefs and concerns are key predictors of climate change action, the findings indicate that a combination of targeted communications endeavours may successfully convey the urgency of the issue, says Dr Milfont.

More research shows how livestock can uproot protected wildlife from prime real estate

Researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) and China are building the case that allowing livestock to graze and forage amidst protected wildlife disrupts wildlife already struggling for survival – and that different wildlife react to livestock invasions in different ways. The work is published in the most recent edition of Biological Conservation.

“We are continuing to understand how to strike a balance between letting humans make a living while protecting wildlife in the same coupled human and natural system,” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, director of MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability and one of the paper’s authors.

“The balance is dynamic, as shown in China – where giant pandas are protected –people are challenged to find new ways to prosper, and new situations emerge. Such dynamics need to be routinely built into conservation across the world.”

The latest findings continue the exploration of the largely unknown impacts of allowing livestock to graze and forage in forests on which fragile wildlife depend. The competition and damage livestock present can disrupt animals already struggling to hold their own.

Three years ago, this research group discovered that the horses that farmers introduced to the forest for extra income in effect shoved pandas away from the bamboo buffet in the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwestern China, the famed home of the vulnerable giant pandas, as well as other threatened wildlife.

The knowledge spurred forest managers to change the rules and get horses out of prime panda habitat.

But other livestock are still there. Beginning in 2011, research associate Jindong Zhang and his colleagues were using motion-detecting camera traps to document the  movement of animals in Hetaoping, a roughly 15 square-mile area in the northeastern portion of the reserve. They focused on an area with a stream, which is crucial to a wide variety of animals, especially in the winter. Midway through their four-year study, there was a change in policy in the reserve and residents there were encouraged to allow livestock to graze there.

Suddenly, sheep, yaks and cows were wandering into the camera’s range.

And the giant pandas, red pandas and golden snub-nosed monkeys started to disappear, but in different ways. Sambas – a type of deer – still showed up for pictures, but shifted to evening hours, presumably to dodge the livestock.

From this tableau that evolves over 1,588 photos, researchers deduct that it’s not just that the wildlife may be affected by their less rare and more domesticated forest mates, but that they react differently, and thus need different types of policies.

“Usually, several species of wildlife live in a forest habitat, due to their biological traits like life history, strategy and diet, and their responses to livestock introduction are different too,” said Zhang, who also is an associate professor in China West Normal University.

“Researchers and managers should consider comprehensively the divergent needs and behavioral responses of those protected animals to livestock and other human activities. Just focusing on a single species might mislead the managers to implement policies that protect one species at the expense of otheWildlife react differently to domestic competition

The giant pandas, which wield the greatest clout in wildlife management privilege, and red pandas left the valuable real estate to the livestock, likely because both need to camp out in one place to plow through the massive amounts of bamboo they require to survive. Zhang said fecal analysis indicated the giant pandas shifted to nearby areas that were less desirable, so it appeared the livestock were forcing them to downgrade their living conditions.

For the monkeys, it appeared easy to just hop over to quieter tree stands, since their population isn’t dense there, and food readily available. The sambars elected to put up with their new neighbors, but opted to graze in evening hours when the livestock would have called it a day.

The sambars’ behavior had been seen years earlier, when CSIS-member Neil Carter found that tigers in Nepal shifted their movements to the night to avoid human disturbances.

NIWA launches index to monitor drought conditions around NZ

A new tool to monitor drought conditions across New Zealand was launched today by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research . Called The New Zealand Drought Index, it is being promoted as an easy-to-use, colour-coded map that defines the scientifically observed drought status of every New Zealand district.

The index is modelled on similar indexes used around the world, displaying the dryness of each district in five categories: dry, very dry, extremely dry, drought and severe drought. Each category is colour-coded from yellow for dry through to dark red for severe drought.

NIWA has developed the index in conjunction with the Ministry for Primary Industries over the past two years.

The ministry will use the new index as one of the criteria, alongside the wider impact on the rural community, to determine whether a drought is a medium- or large- scale adverse event. The Minister for Primary Industries then decides what support and recovery measures should be made available.

The index is based on four commonly-used climatological drought indicators: the Standardised Precipitation Index, the Soil Moisture Deficit, the Soil Moisture Deficit Anomaly and the Potential Evapotranspiration Deficit.

The index is presented as a map and as charts, enabling people to select districts and climatological indicators to keep track of particular areas.

It is expected to be a useful tool for farmers, irrigators, regional councils, water managers and anyone who needs to know about dry conditions. It is searchable by date and any combination of the drought indicators.

The NZDI can be accessed HERE.

Organic not the only ingredient in recipe for sustainable food production

A new UBC study published in Science Advances finds organic thinking alone is not necessarily better for humans and the planet.

Organic is often proposed a holy grail solution to current environmental and food scarcity problems, “but we found that the costs and benefits will vary heavily depending on the context,” said Verena Seufert, a researcher at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES).

Seufert and her co-author, Navin Ramankutty, Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Change and Food Security at UBC, analysed organic crop farming across 17 criteria such as yield, impact on climate change, farmer livelihood and consumer health.

It is the first study to systematically review the scientific literature on the environmental and socioeconomic performance of organic farming, not only assessing where previous studies agree and disagree, but also identifying the conditions leading to good or bad performance of organic agriculture.

Two factors that are top of mind for many consumers are synthetic pesticide use and nutritional benefits of organic. Seufert and Ramankutty argue that in countries like Canada where pesticide regulations are stringent and diets are rich in micronutrients, the health benefits of choosing organic may be marginal.

“But in a developing country where pesticide use is not carefully regulated and people are micronutrient deficient, we think that the benefits for consumer and farm worker health may be much higher,” said Ramankutty, professor at IRES and the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC.

Another important measure of the sustainability of farming systems is the yield of a crop. To date, most studies have compared the costs and benefits of organic and conventional farms of the same size, which does not account for differences in yield.

Previous research has shown the yield of an organic crop on average is 19 to 25 per cent lower than under conventional management. Seufert and Ramankutty find that many of the environmental benefits of organic agriculture diminish once lower yields are accounted for.

“While an organic farm may be better for things like biodiversity, farmers will need more land to grow the same amount of food,” said Seufert. “And land conversion for agriculture is the leading contributor to habitat loss and climate change.”

The findings suggest that organic alone cannot create a sustainable food future. The authors nevertheless conclude it still has an important role to play. Buying organic is one way that consumers have control over and knowledge of how their food is produced since it is the only farming system regulated in law.

“We need to stop thinking of organic and conventional agriculture as two ends of the spectrum,” said Seufert.

Instead, consumers should demand better practices for both so the world’s food needs can be met in a sustainable way.

Environmentalists critical of Nick Smith over GM policy

Former Green Party MP Steffan Browning has accused Environment Minister Nick Smith of wanting to bully the country into accepting GE plants into New Zealand “using bad law, unproven claims about productivity, and emotional spin on cancer treatment research.”

Browning (see HERE) was prompted to blog on the subject after TVNZ’s Sunday program reported the growers of organic apples and poultry producers were increasingly unhappy with Smith’s GE stance.

He contended:

Smith has been using unproven science on GE rye grass, and misleading claims about GE vaccine research to bolster his argument for radical new ministerial powers. The Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, currently in front of Parliament would allow Minister Smith to override Councils who choose to declare GE-free zones for their community’s environmental and economic wellbeing.

AgResearch’s genetically engineered (GE) forages (including ryegrass) program has already wasted millions of taxpayers’ money. If the grass was released into the environment, there’s a strong chance it would wreck New Zealand’s competitive GE Free advantage; and certainly reduce the billions of dollars of export potential in organic conversions. The supposed productivity boost of GE rye grass is not just unproven, but part of a succession of failed research targets and timelines over the last 20 years.

The Soil and Health Association last week expressed concerns too (see HERE)..

The Government seems hell-bent on denying the rights of communities to have GE-free zones, which are under threat from a ‘dictator clause’, says the Soil & Health Association.

“We are continuing to stand by all the communities around New Zealand who, quite rightly, want to have control over what happens with GMOs in their regions,” said Marion Thomson, chair of Soil & Health.

The previous day Parliament had heard the second reading of the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill, which contains proposals that would allow the Minister for the Environment  to strip councils of their ability to create GE-Free food producing zones.

NZ agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation conference next week

The New Zealand Agricultural Green House Gas Mitigation Conference will provide the full breadth of updates from policy, science and industry when it comes to agricultural greenhouse gases in New Zealand.

The focus is on how the agricultural sector will contribute to New Zealand’s commitments under the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which seeks to hold the rise in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and has been ratified by more than 130 countries.

Presentations will cover the role played by agricultural emissions in climate change, industry perspectives, life cycle analysis, the role of land use change in emissions levels, projections to 2030, technology updates (myths and realities!) from methane and nitrous oxide programmes, and the role of soil carbon in on-farm solutions.

Registration is free and includes a networking lunch and a post-conference drinks function.

Pre-registration is required at

Details: 9am – 4.20pm Tuesday 28 March, Palmerston North Convention Centre, 354 Main St, Palmerston North.

Bacteria hitch a ride on raindrop spray (with implications for tackling kiwifruit Psa)

New research reveals how raindrops on soil create bioaerosols – tiny droplets of bacteria-laden water – which can help spread harmful microbes, including kiwifruit pathogen Psa.

Our attention was drawn to it by a Sciblog post (HERE).

Although soil bacteria are usually pretty slow at getting around, the post observes, wet weather has been suggested to give them a hand travelling large distances. But exactly how rain gets bacteria from the soil into the air has been something of a mystery – until now.

New research, published in Nature Communications, details the exact mechanism that allows bacteria to get airborne with the help of rain.

Using high-resolution imaging, Cullen Buie and colleagues from MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering tracked the fine mist released by a fizz of bubbles created when a drop of water hits soil. The researchers found that the tiny droplets in this mist carried up to several thousand bacteria from the soil and is some cases the bacteria remained alive for more than an hour afterward.

“Imagine you had a plant infected with a pathogen in a certain area, and that pathogen spread to the local soil,” Buie says. “We’ve now found that rain could further disperse it. Manmade droplets from sprinkler systems could also lead to this type of dispersal. So this [study] has implications for how you might contain a pathogen.”

The team calculated that precipitation around the world may be responsible for 1 to 25 percent of the total amount of bacteria emitted from land.

You can read more about the research on

The authors note that their research is important for studying the spread of all manner of bacteria that could harm humans, animals and plants.

The Sciblogs post notes that one of the sample bacteria they used in their research –Pseudomonas syringae – has direct relevance to New Zealand.

A variant of this bacteria, Pseudomonas syringae  pv actinidiae (Psa) is all too well known among NZ kiwifruit growers as the cause of kiwifruit vine disease.

A 2010 outbreak of the disease in the Bay of Plenty has been calculated to cost the NZ kiwifruit industry up to $885 million over 15 years.

Psa is known to spread more easily with the help of wet and wild weather and this new research offers a deeper understanding of exactly how Psa might be fizzed up into the air by raindrops and whisked away in bioaerosols. It will also offer further avenues for research on how to best predict and limit the spread of the costly disease.

Plant & Food Research has been working on using weather data to model the spread of the the disease in Bay of Plenty orchards.