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Study: Sicker livestock emit more methane, accelerating climate change

Oct. 7 (UPI) — Warming temperatures may inspire a feedback loop of climate-altering flatulence, according to a new paper published Wednesday in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Over the last decade, atmospheric methane concentrations have risen dramatically, and studies suggest livestock and their digestive systems are responsible for roughly half of the increase in methane emissions.

Scientists suggest the problem is likely to get worse as temperatures rise.

According to the new paper, a review of scientific literature on livestock health and methane emissions, rates of parasitic worm and bacterial infections are expected to rise as the planet warms. When cows, sheep and other animals are battling an infection, they emit more methane.

“Some parasitic worms spend part of their life cycle in the external environment — on grass, for example — and temperature can affect the rate at which these parasites develop into a life stage that can infect animals,” lead study author Vanessa Ezenwa told UPI in an email.

“For example, in some areas, colder temperatures during winter months slow down or stop the development of these parasites,” said Ezenwa, a professor of ecology at the University of Georgia.

Several studies have shown parasitic and bacterial infections increase the amount methane produced per unit of food consumed by livestock.

“It’s not known why this happens, but it could be related to the disruption caused by these parasites in the GI tract which is where methane is produced through bacterial fermentation of plant material,” Ezenwa said.

Because sicker livestock are often less productive — cows plagued by parasites yield less milk — farmers need more food and animals to maintain production levels, boosting methane emissions.

Bacteria and parasitic worms aren’t the only infection agents expected to proliferate in a warmer world.

“Recently, the protozoan parasite that causes trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, have been linked to increased methane emissions in livestock,” Ezenwa said.

Ezenwa and her research partners used data from their scientific review to model the impacts of parasitic infections on livestock methane emissions. The simulations revealed a disconnect between current models and reality.

“Current and future contributions by ruminant livestock to global methane emissions may be substantially underestimated,” Ezenwa said. “Given that ruminant livestock are responsible for nearly half of all the methane produced from living sources, this is an important insight that we hope will prompt further research to understand the connections between livestock diseases and methane emissions.”

Ezenwa hopes the newly published paper will inspire other scientists to investigate the effects of rising temperatures on a variety of infectious agents, as well as the effects of those agents on methane production.

To slow methane emissions by ruminant livestock, researchers must identify and combat the most problematic parasites and bacteria strains.

Ezenwa said scientists must avoid studying parasites, bacteria and methane emissions in isolation. Instead, researchers need to focus on untangling to the complex connections between climate warming, infectious diseases and greenhouse gas emissions.

“To date, studies on the effects of climate warming on infectious

The August Complex wildfire has topped 1M acres in California. That’s ‘proof’ of climate change, Gov. Gavin Newsom says.

California reached another alarming milestone Monday in its historic wildfire season: A single fire has burned 1 million acres. 

California wildfire evacuee: ‘we lost everything’

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The August Complex, which has spread into seven counties since sparking Aug. 17, is larger than the combined total of all of the state’s wildfires from 1932 to 1999, Gov. Gavin Newsom said. It has destroyed or damaged nearly 250 structures, according to Cal Fire.



an orange sunset in the background: The August Complex Fire burns near Lake Pillsbury in the Mendocino National Forest of California on Sept. 16, 2020.


© Noah Berger, AP
The August Complex Fire burns near Lake Pillsbury in the Mendocino National Forest of California on Sept. 16, 2020.

This comes a day after fire officials said this year’s wildfires have burned more than 4 million acres — more than double the previous record.

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“If that’s not proof point, testament, to climate change, then I don’t know what is,” Newsom said.

The Northern California blaze, which began as a series of fires ignited by lightning in the Mendocino National Forest, became the state’s largest wildfire last month, with officials warning that it will likely merge with the Zogg Fire near Redding.

‘Scared to death’: In California wine country, wildfire-fatigued residents weigh the unthinkable: Moving out

Video: California couple recalls ‘wall of fire,’ exploding trees as they escaped Glass Fire (KTXL-TV Sacramento)

California couple recalls ‘wall of fire,’ exploding trees as they escaped Glass Fire

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“It’s likely the Zogg Fire may make its way into the August Complex, (which) remains the largest wildfire in terms of total acreage burned in California’s history,” Newsom said last week.

As of Monday afternoon, the August Complex was 54% contained.

Fire crews have made progress against the Zogg Fire, which started Sep. 27. Containment was at 80% Monday night, the second straight day the blaze has not grown in acreage. 

The Zogg Fire has killed four people, destroyed 204 buildings,and burned 56,305 acres. The cause is still unknown, according to Cal Fire.

In the wine country, fire officials on Monday lifted some evacuation orders in Sonoma County, where the Glass Fire has charred 66,840 acres. It was 41% contained.

More than 1,230 buildings have been destroyed, including wineries and beloved landmarks such as Napa’s famed Restaurant at Meadowood, by the Glass Fire, which sparked on the same day as the Zogg Fire.

Contributing: Susan Miller and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY; David Benda and Matt Brannon, Redding (Calif.) Record Searchlight; The Associated Press