Biodiversity is the key to stable ecosystems. Only stable ecosystems can provide ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are those things that your local ecosystem provides to organisms who live in them and the people who live there. Commonly enjoyed ecosystem services include clean water provided by plant roots which hold soil, pollination of crops by native insects, and removal of pest insects by birds and bats. Without ecosystem services humans would not have the quality of life we currently enjoy and would have an incredibly hard time feeding our populations. Unfortunately, human actions over the past 2 decades have removed over 50% of the world’s wildlife. This is unsustainable and will result in the loss of critical ecosystem services for us.
Many people want to know what they can do to help prevent this problem. There are so many simple actions that people can take that will make a huge difference to slow or even stop this problem. One of the biggest things that we can all do is to support plant diversity which is the foundation of ecosystem diversity. If native animals have native plants, then they have food sources that they depend upon. Once native plants disappear from an area then food sources for bugs and birds disappear and those small pockets of native plants are not adequate to support insects who pollinate our crops or birds which eat mosquitos.
Birds are hit hard due to the lack of native plants and our efforts to interrupt natural cycles in the insect world. Birds are dependent on larval insects to feed their babies. These larval insects are most often caterpillars which eat the leaves of native plants. Without native plants which are allowed to support a healthy insect population, our local birds do not have the resources to feed their young. Often the babies do not survive when a mother bird cannot find adequate food. Predators can easily take advantage of a parent bird who has to work too hard to find food and cannot provide protection for her young. Many species of songbirds are now in trouble because their reproductive rates have slowed dramatically over the past several decades. Earlier spring weather complicates this problem as larval insects become active earlier than the migrating birds return and much of their food source has matured beyond the stages critical for feeding their young by the time they return from winter grounds to the south.
Most of us enjoy spring birds singing and seeing parent birds flit from branch to branch to gather insects for their young. Children marvel at watching baby birds grow up and learn to fly. Fat little robins and chickadees clumsily landing and taking off in our yards can enthrall people from 1 to 100 years old. I could argue that we need birds for so many reasons. They provide us joy, but more importantly they eat insect pests as adults and are amazing agents of seed dispersal for our forest plants. Watching a single Eastern Phoebe on a telephone wire for 20 minutes can amaze me as they eat hundreds of insects from my farm. Without their services I would have substantial crop damage and a lot more mosquito bites.
Birds simply need native plants. Plants which will support native insect populations and plants which are allowed to support native insect populations. An oak tree can support 100’s of insect species and is incredibly valuable for native bird species far beyond a nesting site. Using native shrubs to landscape around your home instead of non-natives will allow birds to utilize your space to acquire food for their families. Allowing plants to support insects is also critical. We must restrict the use of insecticides to situations when insect damage is threatening the health of the plant. Plants can endure insect damage, and will often shed leaves damaged by insects and regrow new ones fairly rapidly. We must find beauty in a leaf that has been chewed by a caterpillar, and find beauty in the mother birds which come and take that caterpillar to build a new generation of birds to do the same. As more and more people move into the mountains we must focus on using natives in our landscape to insure we protect biodiversity. Without this biodiversity the true beauty of our mountain home may be lost and local sustainable agriculture will be far more difficult.
Native plants for landscaping which support biodiversity:
Oak- any species will support up to 500 species of insects, as opposed to a non-native Ginkgo tree which supports only 4.
Native hollies- Ilex species have lovely berries and fall colors and intoxicating perfume from their flowers in the spring.
Serviceberry- Amelanchier arborescence supports insect populations in spring and provides critical berries for fattening up birds for fall migrations.
Dogwoods, Spicebush, even poison ivy provides food for native birds (I don’t recommend planting that one). Check out a local native nursery today and see what goodies you can incorporate into your landscape to help our feathered neighbors.
Eating with the Season
January 27, 2017
Kombucha is a healthful traditional beverage made from fermenting black sweet tea. It is fermented by a colony of pro-biotic organisms called a mother...