Research Activity

Ethnobiology

We are exploring the local knowledge and use of wild and semidomesticted species of plants and invertebrates. Our work focuses in particular on North Italy and South America.

Interactions between populations and local natural resources, including crop domestication, are complex and depend on the social, cultural, and economic environment of such populations. These factors interact with the autoecology of the plants, agroecological adaptation, and evolutionary mutualism between plants and man.


Collaborators
Dott. Leandro Dreon, Friuli Venezia Giulia region
Dott. Linda Sacchetti, Liguria region

pistic
edible caterpillar  Alto Orinoco
Wild relatives of Mediterranean crops


Bioindicators

The aim of bioindicator-based studies is to use the living components of the environment under study (especially those with the highest diversity, the invertebrates), as the key to assess the transformations and effects, and, in the case of landscape reclamation, to monitor the remediation process in different parts of  the landscape over time.

Bioindicator-based studies have the potential to make a major contribution to optimizing different farming systems, input practices, new crops, rotation, etc., and to influence political policies governing landscape management, urban and industrial areas; landscape reclamation and transformation.



Isopods: Trachelipus rathkei
Earthworms: Eophila tellinii
handsorting in China


Ongoing international proejct

BIOBIO - Indicators for biodiversity in organic and low-input farming systems (EC proejct 7FP)


Project duration: 2009-2013 -   Proejct website: http://www.biobio-indicator.wur.nl/UK/

Coordinator: Federal Dept. of Economic Affairs; Research Station ART (Switzerland)

Other participants
Szent Istvan Egyetem (Hungary)
Aberystwyth University (UK)
Norsk Institutt for Skog og Landscap (Norway)
Universitaet fuer Bodenkultur Wien (Austria)
ALTERRA B.V. (Netherlands)
Technische Universitaet Muenchen (Germany)
Universidad de Extemadura (Spain)

Universita degli Studi di Padova (Italy) - prof. Maurizio G. Paoletti

SOLAGRO (France)
Institute of Plant Genetic Resources (Bulgaria)
Alma Mater Studiorum-Università di Bologna (Italy)
Institut Nationale de la Recherche Agronomique – INRA (France)
Bila Tserkva National Agrarian University (Ukraine)
Institut National de Recherche en Génie Rural, Eaux et Forets (Tunisia)
Faculty of Agriculture, Makarere University (Uganda)

Proejct description
Organic and low-input farming systems have been shown to benefit farmland biodiversity although a generic indicator system to assess these benefits at the European level is lacking. The BIOBIO project will therefore pursue the following objectives:
  • Conceptualization of criteria for a scientifically-based selection of biodiversity indicators for organic/low-input farming systems;
  • Assessment and validation of a set of candidate biodiversity indicators in representative case studies across Europe (and in ICPC countries);
  • Preparation of guidelines for the implementation of biodiversity indicators for organic/low-input farming systems for Europe and beyond.
Role of the lab.
Field work for the biodiversity assessment in organic, low input and conventional vineyards in Italy, in Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions.

vineyards near Soave (Verona)

Agroecology

Effects agroecosystems management practices on soil biodiversity and soil health, in particular concerning conventional-intensive vs. organic/low-input agriculture practices. We are exploring the role of agrochemical treatments (pesticies and herbicides) on soil fauna using selected groups of soil invertebrates as bioindicators.

Energy efficiency and carbon storage in different agroecosystem types are also analysed for both organic and conventional farming systems.


 Liquid manure on cabbages in China


Agroenergies: Multidimentional perspectives

Biofuels have lately been indicated as a promising source of cheap and sustainable energy.However, we think that there is an urge to conduct serious and deep analysis on the environmental and social impact of large scale biofuels production before important energy policies are launched at global level.
Second generation biofuels converting cellulose into ethanol may not be feasible too.  Large scale conversion of crop residues and agricultural waste into bioenergy may not be energetically efficient, and can pose a major threat to long term soil fertility and soil biodiversity



corn field
crop residues harvest


Foodweb ecology based on deep caves moonmilk bacteria

Autolitotrophy is a new fronteer for terrestrial and aquatic productivity. We are working on a cave ecosystem where a troglobitic beetles, Cansiliella servadeii (Leptodirinae), are part of a foodweb based on bacteria from moonmilk, an hydrated secondary calcium carbonate deposit. The beetle has modified mouth parts (hoe-shaped mandibles and spoon-shaped galeas) that are adapted to browsing on the moonmilk surface percolated by 4-12 mm water. Observing beetle behaviour and microscopy confirm that moonmilk biofilm is ingested. The systematics of carbon and nitrogen isotopes from cave animals, compared to surface animals, the moonmilk and percolating water are being analyzed to picture the structure of the new foodweb for C. servadeii.

moonmilk bacteria fed by Cansiliella


Role of chitinases in human stomach for chitin digestion

Chitin-containing food is an interesting but underestimated source of locally available, in most cases sustainable, food although chitin digestion by humans has generally been questioned or denied. Only in recent times chitinases have been found in several human tissues and their role has been associated with defence against parasite infections as well as with some allergic conditions.

We demonstrated that AMCase is present in gastric juices and it is associated with chitin digestion.

Crustaceans, and to some extent molluscs, mushrooms and most arthropods containing chitin, are sometime a consistent part of food regimes for local communities. In most tropical and some temperate countries, such as Japan and Korea, a significant number of adult insects and larvae are consumed raw, or cooked along with diverse local specialities. At present, up to 2,000 species of insects and other terrestrial arthropods have been listed as edible in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Australia and Europe. Both insects and crustaceans are covered by chitin teguments and mushrooms contain some chitin. In most cases, the hard covering of polysaccharide chitin on insects accounts for 5%-20% of their dry weight. In general, chitinases can digest chitin and reduce it to simple compounds such as N-acetyl-glucosamine. Western society does not consider insects an important food, however: crustaceans, such as lobsters and crabs, are commonly eaten after discarding the hardened chitin-rich tegument, with the exception of small shrimps, which are generally eaten fried. Therefore, Western nutrition does not seem to depend on chitinases. These and other considerations, including the absence of chitin as a human body component, have led us to ask whether humans are capable of chitin digestion.


mushrooms contain some chitin
shrimps are covered with chitin
edible insects