Published on May 8th, 2019 | by Sarah Dephillips0
How to Increase Biodiversity in Your Own Backyard
Last week, the United Nations came out with the most alarming report to date about the state of the world’s biodiversity. In short, it’s decreasing at unprecedented rates. And while this may not be a huge surprise, the report is another shocking warning that we must act now. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Chair, Sir Robert Watson, summarized that “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
The report cited five major causes of massive biodiversity loss: “(1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.” On a more hopeful note, the report also claims that “it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global…” And while most of us have no control at the global level, many of us DO have the power to combat biodiversity loss at the most local level – our own backyards. So if the UN report has you in the biodiversity blues, why get outside and make your own space a safe haven for local species? Here’s 6 ways to do just that.
1. Quit the chemicals.
Not only do lawns contribute to climate change, the EPA reports that in 2012, Americans used 28 million pounds of herbicides and 14 million pounds of insecticides, just on their lawns and gardens! Everyone wants to have a beautiful lawn and garden, but there are some detrimental environmental impacts that come with these products. For instance, chemical pesticides are killing off bees and other pollinators. Chemical fertilizers and herbicides can wash into waterways and wreak havoc on marine ecosystems. Switching to organic lawn care will make a huge difference for your local ecosystem.
2. Landscape with native trees, shrubs, and flowers
Invasive species spread was one of the five issues cited by the UN report, and this often happens as a result of people’s landscaping preferences. Invasive species can spread rapidly and unexpectedly, having unintended consequences for the local environment. But avoiding invasives isn’t enough. Native ecosystems evolve together, so removing native plants to create developments takes away the preferred homes and food sources of native animals and birds. Intentionally planting native species will make other native species feel at home.
3. Befriend the bugs
In the developed world, we’ve developed a phobia of bugs. And while some bugs can be harmful to your health or property, like ticks or termites, the vast majority of bugs are harmless and play critical roles in the local ecosystem. Some are even beneficial to humans, eating the bugs we consider to be “pests.” Keeping your yard perfectly bug-free is a good way to drive away lots of other species who eat or have symbiotic relationships with bugs. Do the minimum amount of bug control that’s necessary.
4. Create a pollinator garden
What’s a pollinator garden? It’s a buffet for beneficial insects like bees, butterflies, and others who pollinate fruits and vegetables so that we and other species have food to eat. If the pollinators fail, the food systems fail. They need pesticide-free places to find food and shelter so they can keep playing their critical ecosystem rolls. Here’s a resource on planting a pollinator garden from the UDSA: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/gardening.shtml
5. Create habitats for other native species.
This goes a step beyond just planting native plants. Do you have a mosquito problem? Consider putting in a bat house or bird house. Be sure to research what is native to your area and what those species like, or else you might just be creating more habitat for invasive competitors!
6. Grow an organic garden, or buy from local organic farmers.
One of the major contributors to habitat loss, pollution, and climate change is industrialized agriculture. While a third of the world’s land and nearly 75% of the fresh water is being used on crops and livestock, we grow grass in our yards. Why not use some of that vast green lawn space to feed ourselves, rather than seizing it from declining plant and animal populations all over the world?
Attribution-free images courtesy of Pixabay.