By Catherine Propper
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Northern Arizona University
Rice agriculture supplies a fundamental food crop to over half of the world’s population; however, these systems in particular are susceptible to causing environmental degradation. On the other hand, rice plots provide wetland and complex habitats with the potential to support biodiversity, which may lead to sustainable rice production. Identifying ecologically-based management paradigms to provide enhanced rice productivity while simultaneously obtaining ecosystem services from wildlife, could lead to improved human and environmental health.
Amphibians are one of the most endangered groups of animals on earth, yet we only are beginning to understand how they provide ecosystem services both in natural and in agricultural settings. Current agricultural pesticide-use practices affect amphibian development and survival through overt toxicity and endocrine disruption of their key physiological functions, such as growth and reproduction. Pesticide exposures, therefore, may reduce or eliminate amphibians’ capacity to support ecosystem services for human populations.
In this seminar, we will be testing the hypothesis that reduced pesticide use will improve amphibians’ capacity to support both human and ecosystem health. Our specific goals are to determine whether amphibians are: (1) acting as biomonitors for negative human health outcomes following pesticide exposure; (2) feeding on rice pests and insect disease vectors; (3) providing food and economic resources for rural farmers; (4) providing fertilizer; and, most critically, (5) increasing rice yield. The aim of our project in the long-term is to disseminate management practices that promote sustainability and health of rice agriculture while gaining multiple benefits for both human populations and one of the most endangered groups of animals on the planet.