How Do Changing Landscapes Affect Human Risk to West Nile Virus?

Urbanization is transforming the South. And as forests and farms are converted to urban land uses, there are environmental consequences—reduced water quality, invasive species, and loss of habitat for native wildlife and plant species. The changes also have implications for disease vectors, such as birds and insects that can carry West Nile Virus (WNV), Lyme disease, and more recently, the Zika virus.

One group of researchers has been looking at the connection between a wide ranging but integrated group of factors in the transmission of WNV—the loss of forest cover, increases in impervious surface, reduced water quality, socioeconomics, and other factors—that may play a role in supporting the bird and mosquito populations that are key in the spread of WNV.

Graeme Lockaby, a research professor with the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University, has been studying the impacts of forest conversion on water quality for decades. In recent years, he has been working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including Wayne Zipperer, SRS-4952 research forester; Wayde Morse, a social scientist, and Latif Kalin, a hydrologic modeler, both with the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn; and Navideh Noori, a hydrologic modeler at the University of Georgia. The team has been looking at how urbanization affects streams, creeks, and rivers in a range of settings from rural forested areas to the inner city.

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The Main Drive Behind Forest Fires

forest-fireTemperatures are rising and forest fires, already larger and more frequent than the historical norm, are projected to increase dramatically with anthropogenic warming.

That’s the general consensus among scientists studying the relationship between fire activity and climate change in the Sierra Nevada. But a study released last week found an influence on past fire activity even greater than climate: human beings.

Since 1600, the way humans have used land in the Sierra has had more effect on fire behavior than climate change, said Valerie Trouet, associate professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona and lead coauthor of the study, published November 14 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Celebrating Every Kid in a Park

every-kipAs part of President Obama’s historic commitment to protecting our natural treasures and ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to experience our great outdoors, the Every Kid in a Park initiative gives fourth graders and their families free access to all of America’s public lands and waters for a full year. Now in the program’s second year, Every Kid in a Park is connecting hundreds of thousands of youth across the country to the great outdoors. 

Building on this work, today, we are thrilled to announce an inter-agency commitment to continue the program for the next five years and a new virtual reality video featuring the First Lady and Modern Family’s Nolan Gould. 

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This Medical Center Prescribes Nature, and Fills Prescriptions On-Site

We inrx_nature the Nature Explore family don’t need a study to tell us that nature has many positive benefits for our physical, mental and spiritual health. We feel these benefits in ourselves, and see them in the children who play in our outdoor classrooms. Yet if nature is so good for our health, why aren’t doctors prescribing time outdoors?

They are, across the country, thanks to the “Rx For Outdoor Activity” training given by The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). Doctors who have taken this training are qualified to write prescriptions for nature and to address children’s health issues as they relate to nature and the environment.

One of these Nature Champions is Daniel Porter, MD, Medical Director of the Lone Star Family Health Center (LSFHC), in Conroe, Texas. Lone Star also has a new Nature Explore Classroom on grounds. Doctors there are writing prescriptions for patients to spend time in the outdoor classroom. These are not simply verbal recommendations, but true prescriptions that are entered into the patient’s electronic health record. This is the first Nature Explore Classroom directly on the grounds of a federally qualified health center, and a model for future replication elsewhere.

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Kids Who Play More Outdoors May be Less Likely to Have Problems with Peers

peer-problem Kids who spend more time outdoors seem to gain a boost in their peer relations, per a new report from Statistics Canada. In September, the agency released a report on outdoor time, physical activity and sedentary time and health indicators of Canadians aged 7 to 14.

Canadian guidelines suggest that kids between 5 and 17 years old get at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day. Only 9 percent of children do. (The rule of thumb is if you’re able to carry on a conversation easily then you’re not working hard enough.)

Each additional hour spent outdoors was associated with:

  • 7 more minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity.
  • 762 more steps.
  • 13 fewer minutes of sedentary time.

Additionally, children reporting more time outdoors were less likely to have peer relationship problems compared with those who spent less time outside, Mark Tremblay of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and his team said in Health Reports.

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Outdoor Learning Project Reveals Children More Motivated to Learn When Outside

outdoor-learningChildren from 125 schools across the South West of England are happier, healthier and more motivated to learn thanks to a new project commissioned by Natural England that has turned the outdoors into a classroom and helped schools transform ways of teaching.

The findings have been released today by the Natural Connections Demonstration project, a 4-year initiative to help school children – particularly those from disadvantaged areas – experience the benefits of the natural environment by empowering teachers to use the outdoors to support everyday learning.

The project, which is funded by Natural England, Defra and Historic England and delivered by Plymouth University, is the largest project of its kind in England and has already helped more than 40,000 primary and secondary school pupils get out of their classrooms and into the outdoors – whether that’s a math lesson in a local park or drama out on the school field.

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Young Children’s Preferences: What Stimulates Children’s Cognitive Play in Outdoor Preschools?

outdoor-play
Pinterest.com

A number of studies have identified childcare environments as significant resources for children’s development, learning through play, and contact with nature. However, there is a lack of knowledge about how, from a child’s perspective, specific outdoor physical environments in preschools stimulate children’s cognitive play.

Emphasizing on the value of listening to children, this study reports the perspectives of twenty-two 4- to 5-year-olds. The study context was an outdoor preschool with natural, mixed, and manufactured settings. A combination of photo preferences and semi-structured interviews was used to investigate children’s perception of preferred settings and cognitive plays.

The results identified that children mainly enjoyed functional and dramatic play. They mostly preferred mixed behavior settings that incorporated ranges of natural and manufactured elements. Compared to other settings, children found mixed settings provided the most opportunities for functional, constructive, dramatic, and game with rules play. The outcomes of this study have implications for the design of outdoor preschools, suggesting a balanced integration of nature with manufactured play features to enhance cognitive play experiences.

To read the full article, click here. 

 

Creating an Outdoor Classroom: Things to Consider

students-adults-working-to-create-outdoor-classroomStudents at Littlewood Elementary School in Gainesville, Florida are enjoying their new outdoor classroom, thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and a GreenWorks! grant from Project Learning Tree. The outdoor classroom includes seating for 24 students, as well as bird feeders, bird baths, and native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife.

The students were involved in many aspects of creating the outdoor classroom; from site planning and design, through installing bird feeders, planting native species, developing adopt-a-tree signs, and creating stepping stone mosaics.

Teachers are thrilled to have this outdoor space where students can be immersed in learning about nature. They observe bird behavior, calculate the dollar value of trees, measure plant growth, and collect data on seasonal changes.

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How to Raise an Environmentalist

loc_environmentalistThis article discusses how we can encourage kids to care more and take action to protect our environment. Social science research indicates that motivating people to take action requires promoting compassionate concern for the world rather than just stating facts and making disastrous predictions about the future world. Research is suggesting that the desire to conserve is linked to our connection to nature – the degree to which we enjoy spending time in nature. Early exposure to nature increases the likelihood that people will care about the environment once they are adults.

While researchers are still trying to figure out why early exposure to nature increases environmental concern, they do know that emotional engagement is crucial in this process. Maintaining mindful behavior when going into a natural setting leads to a more connectedness with nature and the ability to empathize with the creatures and environment.  The first step in the right direction is to get more children outside, playing, and receiving all the benefits nature has to give.

To read the full article, click here.

Forest Bathing to Improve Health

loc_forestbathingFirst prescribed by Henry David Thoreau in 1854, eco-therapy is now scientifically proven to improve wellbeing. Forest bathing – basically just being in the presence of trees – is a type of eco-therapy that has proven to lower heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormone production, and increase the immune system and general feelings of wellbeing. This method of relaxation and health practice is gaining popularity, and not a minute too soon.

A forest bath requires a person to just immerse themselves in nature and relax, instead of trying to accomplish anything. For 8 years, Japanese researchers studied the physiological and psychological effects of this method. They found a boost in the immune system of participants, due to an increase in natural killer cells. These cells provide rapid responses to viral-infected cells and respond to tumor formation, and are associated with immune system health and cancer prevention. These positive affects after a few hours in the forest can last for up to a month. These effects can be attributed to phytoncide found in plants and trees in the forests. Trees use this essential oil to protect themselves against bacteria and insects, and humans can use it for an improved immune system.

Nature also had physiological results on participants. They had greater activity in their parasympathetic nerves, which controls the body’s ability to rest and relax. The psychological benefits from forest bathing involved reduced hostility and depressive tendencies among the participants.

Due to the findings of this study, the Japanese government implemented 48 therapy trails throughout local forests. To read the full article, click here.