Saturday, January 29, 2011

Global Soap Project Creator to Speak at Next Clayton State Lead the Way Series

Clayton State University’s Department of Campus Life will sponsor its monthly LEAD the WAY Leadership Speaker Seminar on Tuesday, Feb. 1, at 6 p.m. in the Student Activities Center Ballroom C, located on the Clayton State University Campus.

Derreck Kayongo, chairman, social entrepreneur, and creator of the Global Soap Project (www.globalsoap.org) will be the speaker. The Global Soap Project recovers and recycles soap from American hotels and facilitates a process by which it is sanitized, melted and remolded into new bars, then distributed to refugee camps in Africa.

LEAD the Way is a series of leadership seminars in which students have the opportunity to interact with leaders in the community to explore the leadership and skill sets needed to be an effective leader. All Clayton State students, staff and faculty are invited to come out and hear about how Kayongo uses his leadership skills to inspire change. This event is free and open to the public.

For further information, contact the Department of Campus Life at StudentLeadership@Clayton.edu or LaShanda Hardin at (678) 466-5433. A unit of the University System of Georgia, Clayton State University is an outstanding comprehensive metropolitan university located 15 miles southeast of downtown Atlanta.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Coastal Habitats Mapped; Seven New Natural Communities Described

After three years, dozens of trips to the field, hundreds of hours in front of the computer and at least 20 collaborative meetings, a simple idea that grew into a full-blown multi-agency project is approaching the finish line. 

A comprehensive habitat mapping and assessment project coordinated by the Nongame Conservation Section of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division will be completed this month, providing up-to-date information on the location and condition of natural communities in Georgia’s 11 coastal counties.

The vegetation mapping project is part of the larger Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative. The collaborative effort between the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Conservancy and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia is aimed at preserving critical coastal lands and promoting sustainable growth and development in the state’s coastal region. The coastal assessment was outlined as a priority conservation action in the State Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy that guides Wildlife Resources and DNR efforts to conserve biological diversity.

To complete this massive mapping project within three years, the coastal counties were divided into two tiers. Georgia DNR botanists Eamonn Leonard and Jacob Thompson took the lead on the first six -- Camden, Glynn, McIntosh, Liberty, Bryan and Chatham. Here, Leonard and Thompson mapped natural communities at the association level, the most detailed level in an international vegetation classification system developed by NatureServe, a nonprofit conservation organization.

 The other five counties, Effingham, Long, Wayne, Brantley and Charlton, were mapped at the ecological system level by Matt Elliott, a Nongame program manager, and Dylan Severens, a DNR GIS intern. While the ecological systems level is coarser in resolution, associations are nested within ecological systems in the NatureServe classification scheme, providing a common basis for conservation planning and regional assessments. 

Jon Ambrose, assistant chief of the Nongame Conservation Section, said the products of the mapping project “represent an unprecedented data set that will be used in conservation planning for years to come.”

DNR and its conservation partners will use the information to identify high-priority conservation lands in the coastal region through the Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative.

Leonard said the work also illustrates to county planners, other biologists and the public “the richness of natural communities and resources that make up the Georgia coast.”

The ecological communities of the coast represent a diverse set of natural resources that provide habitats for many rare plant and animal species, while also supporting basic ecological functions on which people rely. For example, the barrier islands and associated intertidal salt marshes help reduce the impact of storm surges on adjacent habitats, homes and developments.

The coastal assessment and mapping project has resulted in several notable discoveries. Seven previously undescribed plant associations have been documented and added to the international database of plant communities. 

Thompson said botanists had to create names and descriptions for those natural communities. “For me, that was one of the more rewarding parts of the job," he said.

Efforts to define and protect globally rare natural communities will continue as a focus of the project in years to come.

YOU CAN HELP

Georgians can help conserve nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats through buying a wildlife license plate featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird. They can also donate to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund through the state income tax checkoff and other ways. Contributions are vital to the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state general funds for its mission to help conserve wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats in Georgia.

The license plates are available for a $35 fee at county tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registrations and through online renewals (http://mvd.dor.ga.gov/tags). Specialty plates include an annual renewal fee. 

For the Give Wildlife a Chance checkoff, fill in any amount more than $1 on line 26 of the state’s long tax form (Form 500) or line 10 of the short form (Form 500-EZ). Contributions can be deducted from refunds or added to payments.

 Georgians can also donate online at www.georgiawildlife.com. Click “Donate the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund” and follow directions. The process is secure. Donations are tax-deductible.

For more information, go to www.georgiawildlife.com/node/338, or call Nongame Conservation Section offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218). State income tax forms are available online at https://etax.dor.ga.gov/.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wildflower Colors Tell Butterflies How To Do Their Jobs

The recipe for making one species into two requires time and some kind of separation, like being on different islands or something else that discourages gene flow between the two budding species.

In the case of common Texas wildflowers that share meadows and roadside ditches, color-coding apparently does the trick.

Duke University graduate student Robin Hopkins has found the first evidence of a specific genetic change that helps two closely related wildflowers avoid creating costly hybrids. It results in one of the normally light blue flowers being tagged with a reddish color to appear less appetizing to the pollinating butterflies which prefer blue.

"There are big questions about evolution that are addressed by flower color," said Hopkins, who successfully defended her doctoral dissertation just weeks before seeing the same work appear in the prestigious journal Nature.

What Hopkins found, with her thesis adviser, Duke biology professor Mark Rausher, is the first clear genetic evidence for something called reinforcement in plants. Reinforcement keeps two similar proto-species moving apart by discouraging hybrid matings. Flower color had been expected to aid reinforcement, but the genes had not been found.

In animals or insects, reinforcement might be accomplished by a small difference in scent, plumage or mating rituals. But plants don't dance or choose their mates. So they apparently exert some choice by using color to discourage the butterflies from mingling their pollen, Hopkins said.

Where Phlox drummondii lives by itself, it has a periwinkle blue blossom. But where its range overlaps with Phlox cuspidata, which is also light blue, drummondii flowers appear darker and more red. Some individual butterflies prefer light blue blossoms and will go from blue to blue, avoiding the dark reds. Other individual butterflies prefer the reds and will stick with those. This "constancy" prevents hybrid crosses.

Hybrid offspring between drummondii and cuspidata turn out to be nearly sterile, making the next generation a genetic dead-end. The persistent force of natural selection tends to push the plants toward avoiding those less fruitful crosses, and encourages breeding true to type. In this case, selection apparently worked upon floral color.

Hopkins was able to find the genes involved in the color change by crossing a light blue drummondii with the red in greenhouse experiments. She found the offspring occurred in four different colors in the exact 9-to-3-to-3-to-1 ratios of classical Mendelian inheritance. "It was 2 in the morning when I figured this out," she said. "I almost woke up my adviser."

From there, she did standard genetics to find the exact genes. The change to red is caused by a recessive gene that knocks out the production of the plant's one blue pigment while allowing for the continued production of two red pigments.

Even where the red flowers are present, about 11 percent of each generation will be the nearly-sterile hybrids. But without color-coding, that figure would be more like 28 percent, Hopkins said. Why and how the butterflies make the distinction has yet to be discovered.

Hopkins will be continuing her research as a visiting scientist at the University of Texas, and the clear message from all of her advisers is "follow the butterflies. Everyone wants to know more about the butterflies!"

The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

By Karl Leif Bates

CITATION:
"Identification of two genes causing reinforcement in the Texas wildflower Phlox drummondii," Robin Hopkins and Mark D. Rausher. Nature, Advance Online Publication, Jan. 9, 2011 DOI:10.1038/nature09641

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Monday, January 10, 2011

NASA's Fermi Catches Thunderstorms Hurling Antimatter Into Space

/PRNewswire/ -- Scientists using NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have detected beams of antimatter produced above thunderstorms on Earth, a phenomenon never seen before.

Scientists think the antimatter particles were formed in a terrestrial gamma-ray flash (TGF), a brief burst produced inside thunderstorms and shown to be associated with lightning. It is estimated that about 500 TGFs occur daily worldwide, but most go undetected.

"These signals are the first direct evidence that thunderstorms make antimatter particle beams," said Michael Briggs, a member of Fermi's Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) team at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). He presented the findings Monday, during a news briefing at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

Fermi is designed to monitor gamma rays, the highest energy form of light. When antimatter striking Fermi collides with a particle of normal matter, both particles immediately are annihilated and transformed into gamma rays. The GBM has detected gamma rays with energies of 511,000 electron volts, a signal indicating an electron has met its antimatter counterpart, a positron.

Although Fermi's GBM is designed to observe high-energy events in the universe, it's also providing valuable insights into this strange phenomenon. The GBM constantly monitors the entire celestial sky above and the Earth below. The GBM team has identified 130 TGFs since Fermi's launch in 2008.

"In orbit for less than three years, the Fermi mission has proven to be an amazing tool to probe the universe. Now we learn that it can discover mysteries much, much closer to home," said Ilana Harrus, Fermi program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The spacecraft was located immediately above a thunderstorm for most of the observed TGFs, but in four cases, storms were far from Fermi. In addition, lightning-generated radio signals detected by a global monitoring network indicated the only lightning at the time was hundreds or more miles away. During one TGF, which occurred on Dec. 14, 2009, Fermi was located over Egypt. But the active storm was in Zambia, some 2,800 miles to the south. The distant storm was below Fermi's horizon, so any gamma rays it produced could not have been detected.

"Even though Fermi couldn't see the storm, the spacecraft nevertheless was magnetically connected to it," said Joseph Dwyer at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla. "The TGF produced high-speed electrons and positrons, which then rode up Earth's magnetic field to strike the spacecraft."

The beam continued past Fermi, reached a location, known as a mirror point, where its motion was reversed, and then hit the spacecraft a second time just 23 milliseconds later. Each time, positrons in the beam collided with electrons in the spacecraft. The particles annihilated each other, emitting gamma rays detected by Fermi's GBM.

Scientists long have suspected TGFs arise from the strong electric fields near the tops of thunderstorms. Under the right conditions, they say, the field becomes strong enough that it drives an upward avalanche of electrons. Reaching speeds nearly as fast as light, the high-energy electrons give off gamma rays when they're deflected by air molecules. Normally, these gamma rays are detected as a TGF.

But the cascading electrons produce so many gamma rays that they blast electrons and positrons clear out of the atmosphere. This happens when the gamma-ray energy transforms into a pair of particles: an electron and a positron. It's these particles that reach Fermi's orbit.

The detection of positrons shows many high-energy particles are being ejected from the atmosphere. In fact, scientists now think that all TGFs emit electron/positron beams. A paper on the findings has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters.

"The Fermi results put us a step closer to understanding how TGFs work," said Steven Cummer at Duke University. "We still have to figure out what is special about these storms and the precise role lightning plays in the process."

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership. It is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. It was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

The GBM Instrument Operations Center is located at the National Space Science Technology Center in Huntsville, Ala. The team includes a collaboration of scientists from UAH, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany and other institutions.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Georgia Power Announces Environmental Stewardship Grants

/PRNewswire/ -- Georgia Power has announced two new and two continuing grants to conservation and natural resource agencies through the Power of Flight partnership program to protect birds in Georgia through habitat and species restoration and environmental education.

The grants are part of Southern Company's partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Two new grants were awarded under Power of Flight:

* National Wild Turkey Federation – to establish and maintain Golden-winged Warbler habitat in the Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Area and the Chattahoochee National Forest in north Georgia's Rabun County through commercial timber thinning, timber stand improvement, herbicide stump treatment, non-native invasive species eradication, native warm-season grass establishment, road and ditch improvements and prescribed burning.
* Avian Research and Conservation Institute – to produce a rangewide strategic plan for recovery of the remnant, steadily-declining population of Southeastern American Kestrel. This project will prioritize specific sites; improve management of habitat and nesting opportunities; perform and evaluate translocations; and select reintroduction sites to establish captive-reared falcons. This project includes activities across the Southeast, including Georgia.

Continuing support was provided to two grants under the Power of Flight program:

* Operation Migration USA – to increase by approximately one-third the number of whooping cranes led south each year using an ultralight aircraft. Through this award increase, Operation Migration will assemble six staff members to condition, train and care for whooping cranes over the summer; imprint and condition up to 12 whooping cranes for southward migration in the fall; and conduct actual southward migration from Wisconsin to Florida. The migration route includes southwest Georgia.
* Milliken Forestry Company – to accelerate translocation efforts for the red-cockaded woodpecker over a five-year period. Funds are supporting a biologist on the Apalachicola National Forest in Florida who monitors potential donor families, with the goal of increasing from 20 to 40 the number of woodpeckers available for translocation each year. This is a continuation of a grant formerly made to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over several years. The project includes activities across the Southeast, including Georgia.

Power of Flight and Longleaf Legacy, two major Southern Company and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation partnership programs, have provided more than $11.3 million through 96 grants since 2002. In addition, grant recipients have contributed more than $45.8 million in matching funds, resulting in an on-the-ground conservation impact of about $57.2 million since the program's inception. These two programs will help more than 279,367 acres of longleaf pine and other critical habitat on public and private lands to be restored, enhancing bird populations across the Southeast.

"Our partnership with Georgia Power is generating tangible, on-the-ground results through the restoration of longleaf pine forests in Georgia," said Jeff Trandahl, executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. "In addition to protecting land and water systems, these projects also provide critical habitat for native bird populations. The benefits to both our natural resources and our wildlife are far-reaching."

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, established by Congress in 1984, is an international leader in developing public and private funding to protect wildlife and natural resources. In 26 years, NFWF has funded 3,700 organizations and leveraged $490 million in federal funds into $1.6 billion for conservation. The achievement of clear, measurable results is central to NFWF's work, bringing together diverse stakeholders — from industry to Congress to local leaders — to accomplish positive outcomes. To learn more, visit www.nfwf.org.

Georgia Power is the largest subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO), one of the nation's largest generators of electricity. The company is an investor-owned, tax-paying utility with rates well below the national average. Georgia Power serves 2.3 million customers in all but four of Georgia's 159 counties.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

4th Annual Fayette County Earth Day Festival

The 2010 Fayette County Earth Day Committee is currently seeking vendors for the 4th annual Fayette County Earth Day festival. This event will be held on Saturday, April 16, 2011 at the Stonewall Avenue Complex from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Educators, mentors and leaders in the community are wanted to provide Educational Exhibits to help our community learn about sustainability, ecology, and green practices.

We are also looking for eco-friendly businesses to provide Vendor Booths in our Green Market, with products and services such as organic produce, Fair Trade gifts, eco-fashions, and items made from renewable resources. Food vendors are also needed to keep our attendees happy and well fed!

Join us and share your products, services and knowledge with hundreds, gain visibility for your company or organization, and connect with other successful businesses and organizations by participating in this county wide sustainability event.

The 2010 Fayette County Earth Day Festival, FREE to all attendees is hosted by Fayette County and coordinated by the Fayette County Earth Day Committee.

Fees:

Green Market & Food Vendors: $30 for 12 x 12 booth space if registered before March 1; $45 thereafter

Educational Exhibitors: Free for non-profits, government agencies and educational institutions only.

Electricity: $10 extra if required.

To become a Green Market Vendor, Educational Exhibitor, Sponsor, or Volunteer for the festival, please go to www.fayettecoearthday.org to obtain additional information for the 2011 Earth Day Festival.