Day 1: The Spud

Key Concepts

Question of the Day

As a human food source, potatoes provide a provisioning ecosystem service. Between 1845 and 1852 approximately 1 million people died during the Irish Potato Famine, which resulted from potato crop failure due to a plant disease called potato blight. What does this event tell us about the relationship between ecosystem services and biodiversity?

Lesson of the Day

" 'Biodiversity' is an attempt to invoke the splendor of the living world with a single word. Just six syllables but they flood the mind with images: fish, bright as petals, dart through a coral reef; herds of caribou stream across frozen lakes; bees thrum, wings beat, buds burst with greenery. This miracle planet teems with living things." - Candace Savage -

Human beings are omnivores, meaning that we eat both plants and animals. Our source of food is the natural world around us. The category of ecosystem services that accounts for the provision of food is called Provisioning Services. Provisioning services are defined as "products obtained from ecosystems", such as food, water, minerals, pharmaceuticals and energy.

Traditionally human beings obtained food by hunting and gathering, which meant that they ate whatever plants and animals were available to them locally. This began to change about 10,000 years ago when agriculture was invented, crops were sown and livestock was tended. Over time, promising species of plants, like potatoes, rice and wheat were given precedence. And animals like cows and chickens were introduced around the world, replacing local species. But the spread and standardization of agricultural species has limited the number of sources from which humans get their nutrition. Currently, 12 species of animals provide 90% of the protein consumed globally, and incredibly, only 4 crop species provide 50% of plant-based calories in the human diet (see: Biodiversity and Food Security). In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that over the last century, three- quarters of the genetic diversity in agricultural crops has been lost. This loss of biodiversity not only limits our diets, but decreases an ecosystem's resistance to climate change, and threatens the sustainability of current crop yields. Just as evidence supports that increased species richness (biodiversity) improves ecosystem service function, so the loss of diversity of crops and livestock put human food sources at greater risk of mass failure.

The modern potato traces its origins to Southern Peru. Over time the cultivation of potatoes spread around the world, and today China is the single largest potato producing nation. Although there are about 5,000 varieties of potatoes, making up about 9 species of potato, of these Solanum tuberosum, is the predominant potato species grown around the world. One one species of an organism is grown this is called monoculture. Potato monoculture contributed the the high death toll from the great Irish Potato Famine which killed about a million people between the years 1845-52.

While in Peru the i2P team will visit the area were the potato originated and establish whether potato biodiversity still exists in the area by trying to purchase as many different species of potatoes as possible from a local market.

Words to Run By

Daily Dispatch

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Video of the Day

Photo of the Day

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Expert Video

School Activities

Biomass: Potato Power

Youth Ambassador Activity

The Youth Ambassadors will visit a local market in Paucartambo. They will purchase as many different species of Potato as they can find. They will compare this to the number of potatoes found in a market in North America. They will then calculate the probability of loss of a food source from potato related illness in location with greater biodiversity vs location with less biodiversity. They will then discuss what occurred during the Great Potato Famine in Ireland (1845-52) they will purchase two of each. They will then extrapolate their finding to the impact of biodiversity on provisioning services and ecosystem services in general.