Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why We Should Garden with Biodiversity in Mind

One of the most profound ideas I ever encountered, one that changed my gardening practices for good, is the concept of “species-area relationship.” It boils down to two rules: all living species need a certain amount of territory in which to flourish, to sustain healthy populations; and the larger the territory, the greater the bio-diversity, that is, the more different kinds of species can sustain healthy populations.

The problem for other species in the U.S. is Homo sapiens; according to biologists such as Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, some 95 percent of the North American continent is human impacted by all the necessary accoutrements of our culture—cities, suburbs, roads, industrial agriculture—and landscaping and gardens. The result? Many once common species are in decline—not enough room or food. This is bad for us, too. We depend on a functioning ecosystem to maintain the health of our own species in intricate, complex ways scientists are only beginning to understand.

Unfortunately, the natural areas set aside for conservation and restoration, seemingly vast as they are, are not enough to maintain biodiversity; but gardeners can and do play a vital role to help. Humans may have property law and fences. We may think we “own” our backyards and corporate campuses—but nature doesn’t have boundaries. When we treat our gardens as though separate from the surrounding ecosystem, when we plant only non-native trees, bushes and flowers and use gardening practices that imitate industrial farming techniques, we actively decrease the area available to other species on whom we depend. We harm ourselves as well. Conversely, when we garden mindfully, we benefit all species, including ourselves.

Thus I say to all gardeners and landscapers: Practice what Dr. Michael Rosenzweig, author of Win-Win Ecology, calls “reconciliation ecology.” Knit your garden, or whatever piece of land you maintain, back into your ecosystem. Stop using synthetic fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. If you are putting in bushes, choose native species such as Viburnums. When planting a maple, go native, not Norway. Stop trying to grow grass in shady areas and instead put in low-growing native wildflowers and groundcovers such as native ginger. Choose natives for your perennial beds. Make compost and use it.

While you are doing this, get your neighbors to do the same. Backyard by backyard we’ll all be helping to improve species-area relationship trends while improving our own relationships with other species. We won’t be creating a new wilderness, but we’ll be helping many species flourish, including our own. The birds, bees and butterflies we all love will thank us by visiting and living in our gardens.

Related Posts:
Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide
Strengthening the Biotic Community

12 comments:

Sheila said...

Well said!

Elephant's Eye said...

We have a Vibracrete (concrete panel) wall (of death). But we fitted diamond mesh panels at the bottom, for the frogs and lizards and snakes, and our cats. One neighbour has very carefully CLOSED the gaps. But the others still serve their purpose.

Adrian said...

Thanks for visiting. I think many, many (and more and more) people think this way.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I ... Love ... This

thank you for this essay!

Gloria said...

So glad to see another wildlife blog that includes gardening. I tried to say something similar but you say it so well.
You have a great book list. I have read several so trust that the others are worth looking into. I will have to Thank Dave at Osage orange for bringing you to notice.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Lisa and Rob and Gloria,

Thanks for stopping by. As I read, I plan to add other books to my list. I'm about to start Gaia's garden by Toby Hemenway--I hear it's a good'un.

Kara said...

Good job!
I believe that corporate monoculture has a lot to do with ecosystem failure. Butterflies, bees, moths, and birds need different plants for food and shelter.
Just imagine how much we can help the environment by growing bird and insect-friendly plants, with no large gap between food sources. It's hard for some critters to travel long distances.

Sylvana said...

When I see the abundance of bees -and variety! And of fireflies, butterflies, birds and other critters that have taken up in my garden, I am happy knowing that not only did I give myself and family a wonderful, peaceful place to relax; but that I have also provided the same for all these creatures as well.

Jim Groble said...

we use only sweet peet, which is zoo poop, for fertilizer. Pat and I consider turf grass to be the enemy. We do not water it at all. The Wilmot Nature Center has a native plant sale which we frequent.
hey, is that house in Elmhurst? jim

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Kara, exactly. Parts of Illinois are really more industrial soy and corn production areas than ecosystems.

Sylvana, forgot about the fireflies! They're abundant in my yard, too.

Jim, that house is in a different suburb. And the amazing thing is that it's directly across the street from a forest preserve. In real life the contrast is hilarious--or sad.

Bush Chick said...

I agree. We all need to do our bit and share our space with biodiversity. Hopefully more people are getting connected with this concept so tht we can keep our wild species.

lkw said...

Just happened on this older post -- what a nicely crafted piece about why we should garden with biodiversity in mind!

Lisa