by Steve Soltesz, Southeast Neighbors
There is so much discouraging news about nature and so little we can do to directly make a difference. Well, here is something you can do to make a tangible difference: restore native habitat in your yard or on your piece of property.
Scientists estimate we have significantly changed three quarters of earth’s land (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 2019). As a result more than half a million land species may not survive because of insufficient habitat. Why care? Biodiversity is crucial for human well-being, whether providing the means to keep us alive or just giving us nature to enjoy.
If habitat loss is such a big problem, we can work on the solution by transforming the pieces of the planet we are directly responsible for back to a more native habitat. Urban yards are especially good for restoration because homeowners can provide a scale of management not possible with large tracts of land. A yard in the city will not attract all the wildlife found in wildlands, but it can literally hum with invertebrates. Even a small space can be transformed from a sterile feeling place to a space chaotic with insects.
Insects? They are not the cute and cuddly animals we generally think about saving from human excesses, but scientists are deeply concerned about declining insect populations and extinctions (Scientists’ Warning to Humanity on Insect Extinctions, Biological Conservation, 2020). As E. O. Wilson points out, “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” Basically, insects are essential to us.
Bird enthusiasts know insects are essential for songbirds. Even seed-eating birds must feed their nestlings insects, especially high-fat caterpillars. Research shows birds may prefer to forage among native plants because native plants are a better source of caterpillars than exotic plants. (Native Plants Improve Breeding and Foraging Habitat for an Insectivorous Bird, Biological Conservation, 2017). So if you like birds, give them the habitat they want.
Native plants are the foundation for valuable habitat. However, appropriate non-native plants can add ecological value, such as resources for pollinators, when incorporated into a yard designed for providing habitat. Unfortunately, many ornamental plants may look nice but provide few or no resources for wildlife, or worse they invade our natural areas displacing indigenous plants and further degrading native habitats. Homeowners who want to give nature a helping hand should primarily rely on native plants for their landscaping. And why not – many native plants are absolutely beautiful in color and form.
Creating our individual landscapes to provide valuable habitat is restorative for the planet and us. A space bursting with life provides daily enjoyment and discoveries and a good place to relax. However, gardening for nature takes a different mindset than the landscaping we have become accustomed to. The Xerces Society can help in this regard with its excellent informational resources (https://xerces.org/pollinator-resource-center). Individually we can take action to restore nature around our homes; collectively we can enrich the natural environment of our community.