Biodiversity: Critically important to our survival
There was an article in the New York Times last week titled “The Most Important Global Meeting You’ve Probably Never Heard Of Is Now.” No, Catrin Einhorn, the reporter, was not referring to the climate summit that will be occurring later this month in Glasgow. She was referring to an international environmental meeting happening last week in China to problem solve the global crisis of a rapid collapse of species and systems.
Everyone has heard of the climate crisis and solving that problem is critical to our existence. However, the earth’s biodiversity crisis is equally important and a topic that receives far less attention. Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, says focusing on only climate change and ignoring biodiversity loss is “(the) equivalent of having a flat tire and a dead battery in your car at the same time. You’re still stuck if you only fix one.”
As with all my columns, I’m going to try to break down this issue for you in a relatable way, and let you know how you as an individual can help!
Over the past century, urbanization has occurred in the United States: 54% of the land in the lower 48 states is made up of cities and suburbs, and 41% is made up of agriculture. We, as humans, have taken over 95% of nature. Lawns and exotic ornamental plants have taken over ecologically productive land. Lawns cover over 40 million acres in the United States, and over 3,400 species of alien plants have invaded 100 million acres, and that is expected to double in five years. Furthermore, since 1990, we have lost at least 20 percent of the average amount of native species in most environments worldwide. Climate change also drives biodiversity loss.
Landscape that is human-dominated is not able to support functioning ecosystems. As a result, biodiversity (the variety of life in a habitat or ecosystem) has greatly suffered. All life depends on biodiversity, including humans and birds. Local birds would not survive without the insects that have evolved along with native plants. For example, native oak trees have been shown to host over 500 species of caterpillars; Ginkgo trees host only five. This is a significant difference when it takes over 6,000 caterpillars to raise one brood of chickadees. Song birds have been in decline since the 1960s, with 40% of them gone so far.
How can you, an individual living in the suburbs of Cleveland, help preserve biodiversity? The answer is actually quite simple, and if you do it, you will absolutely contribute to helping the problem. All you have to do is plant native plants and trees on your property. Planting native plants gives local animals what they need to survive and produce. Every single animal gets their energy from plants or from something that eats plants. This is why insects are a vital component of the ecosystem. Alien ornamental species support 29 times less biodiversity than native ornamentals. Even modest increases in native plants in suburbs significantly increase the number and species of breeding birds. Native plants also help you use less water, as their deep root systems increase the soil’s capacity to store water. Native plants significantly reduce water runoff and flooding.
How do you know if a plant or tree is native? The Audubon Society has a handy native plant database on their website, audubon.org/native-plants. All you have to do is enter in your zip code and the plants and trees native to our area pop up. You can search by the type of plant, the type resource the plant provides, and the type of birds it attracts. Also, I have seen more and more “native plant” sections at gardening stores, such as Cahoon Nursery.
I hope, as you make landscaping decisions for your home, you will take this issue into consideration and choose only native plants. Your yard will look beautiful, and the nature around us will love it even more.