One of the biggest threats to species survival is loss of habitat–as humans create monocultures, that is, single-culture environments like those lush green acres of Kentucky Bluegrass, scads of other creatures and plants lose their food sources and homes. A healthy environment depends on lots of connections between species–think of that old food web lesson from your school days. Let’s look at robins as an example.
Robins live in marshes, fields, hedges, gardens, parks and forest borders. They can build nests and survive in a great variety of places. As omnivores they eat insects, worms, berries and small snakes. They are eaten by foxes, bobcats, owls, crows, hawks and their eggs get eaten by blue jays. You can remove worms from an ecosystem, but a robin will still survive because they can eat plenty of other things–but continue removing species and soon the robin’s ability to survive is threatened. Conversely, if lots of species thrive but let’s say one type of insect population suffers, the effects throughout the food chain are lessened.
Healthy ecosystems have the greatest diversity. Diversity means less stress if one population suffers from disease or some other failure to thrive. A lack of diversity creates imbalances that eventually ripple across entire ecosystems. A great example of this can be found in lakes with too much algae–as algae blooms suffocate the fish and plant life in lakes, birds and insects and animals depending on and controlled by those fish and plant populations either struggle for survival or explode in numbers.
So, what can YOU do to protect ecological diversity? How can you up the species count in your own back yard? Here are a few ideas:
1. Plant lots of different things–grasses, flowers, trees and shrubs. Native species will provide food sources and habitats for native critters. More variety in plant life will result in more variety in insect, animal and bird populations.
2. Avoid using pesticides. You might spray for mosquitoes, but you’ll end up killing all kinds of other bugs with the same poison. A can of Raid will kill ants, butterflies, flies, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, mosquitoes, moths, grubs, spiders, bees and fireflies. Wipe out your insect populations and the faster breeding types (like those flies and mosquitoes) will rebound without slower breeding predator populations (like dragonflies and spiders) to help keep them in check. Wipe out all the insects and the birds go hungry.
3. Invite species into your back yard with bird feeders, bat houses, water sources and other amenities.
By upping the species count in our own backyards, we can protect diversity and the environment.