Monoculture in agriculture is really bad for biodiversity.
PARIS (AFP-Jiji) — A diet of corn is turning wild hamsters in northeastern France into deranged cannibals that devour their offspring, alarmed researchers have reported.
“There’s clearly an imbalance,” Gerard Baumgart, President of the Research Center for Environmental Protection in Alsace, and an expert on the European hamster, told AFP on Jan. 27.
“Our hamster habitat is collapsing.”
More common farther to the east, Cricetus cricetus is critically endangered in western Europe.
The findings, reported in the British Royal Society journal Proceedings B, finger industrial-scale monoculture as the culprit.
Once nourished by a variety of grains, roots and insects, the burrowing rodents live today in a semi-sterile and unbroken ocean of industrially grown maize, or corn.
The monotonous diet is leaving the animals starving, scientists discovered almost by accident.
The problem is a lack of vitamins. In fact, one in particular: B3, or niacin.
Researchers led by Mathilde Tissier at the University of Strasbourg had set out to determine whether hamster diet affects their ability to reproduce in the wild.
Baby hamsters eaten alive
Earlier work had looked at the impact of pesticides and mechanized plowing, which can destroy their underground homes, especially during hibernation in winter.
But the possible link with what they eat remained unexplored.
A first set of lab experiments with wild specimens compared wheat and corn-based diets, with side dishes of clover or worms.
There was virtually no difference in the number of pups born, or the basic nutritional value of the different menus.
But when it came to survival rates, the difference was dramatic.
About four-fifths of the pups born of mothers feasting on wheat-and-clover or wheat-and-worms were weaned.
Only five percent, however, of the baby hamsters whose mothers ate corn instead of wheat made it that far.
What was most disturbing is how they perished.
“Females stored their pups with their hoards of maize before eating them,” the scientists reported. “Pups were still alive at that time.” Read the rest of this entry »