By MICHELLE THOMPSON
How You Can Help Save Our Ecosystem
Most homeowners don’t think about food webs or ecosystems when creating or changing up a landscape plan, but we should, and it’s becoming a critical necessity. With a growing U.S. population, (almost one million each year) that growth equates to land development on over 2 million acres per year. The consequences in the U.S. are that we can expect to lose 95% of the species that once lived there and the ecosystems on which we all depend. The rest of the world doesn’t fare any better with the U.N. predicting one million species will go extinct in the next twenty years. Healthy ecosystems help support life by generating oxygen, clean air and water, creating topsoil, supporting pollinators for plant existence and mammals that provide pest control. What is the most important thing we can do to give nature a chance? Bring back native plants.
Native plants evolved with native wildlife to feed native insects, birds and animals. If the plants that insects evolved with disappear, so does the wildlife that depends on them. Birds and mammals need native insects to survive and native insects need native plants to survive. Nature has a timeline that provides for flowers to bloom when pollinators migrate, insects to be there when birds feed their young, plants to grow for the leaf eating insects and plants to provide food for bird and animal life cycles.
Entomologist and author, Doug Tallamy has a plan for each of us to help restore biodiversity and ecosystem function with a call to action for homeowners, and anyone with some soil, to plant native plants and remove most invasive plants. He would like to see half of green lawns converted to what amounts to 20 million acres of native plants. His solution is small efforts by many people.
Details for his initiative can be found at homegrownnationalpark.org and in his newest book ‘Nature’s Best Hope’ (2019). The first big step is to shrink your lawn and use that space for native plants. Choose plants wisely that have the biggest impact on ecosystems and contribute the most energy to local food webs. Plants that provide food for insects like caterpillars, sawflies and native bees are a priority. A list of native plants can be found at the National Wildlife Federation website, by clicking on ‘Native Plant Finder’. The number and names of animal species supported by each plant are listed. An oak tree supports a whopping 468 animal species making it a keystone plant that forms the backbone of local ecosystems. Comparatively, goldenrod supports 82 species (a high number for a perennial plant).
Some of Tallamy’s suggestions are to increase the abundance and diversity of our plants, add plants for pollinators, decrease outdoor lights (that kill thousands of moths), and to not use insecticides or herbicides. With some motivation and knowledge, he considers us natures best hope.
The Native Plant Society of Texas-Houston website (npsot.org/wp/Houston/) is another useful resource specific to our area.