You may have heard of the recent problems with honeybee populations and the "Colony Collapse Disorder". Honeybees, which were brought here from Europe, have certainly seen better days. Our native pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies have also been having trouble.
We rely upon pollinators for more than 30% of our food crops. Even our backyard vegetable gardens require pollinators. One problem is our abundant use of pesticides. Another major underlying factor is the loss of habitat for animals like our pollinators.
I have studied interactions between plants, wildlife, people, and the environment for more than 20 years. I can show you how to modify your landscape so that it provides much-needed habitat, safe for the organisms like pollinators on which we depend. I can teach you about the organisms in your landscape and others you might like to include in it. I can help you increase the value of your property in terms of its biodiversity and sustainability while, most likely, decreasing the amount of maintenance needed.
Did you know?
• Populations of songbirds have been in decline for the past 50 years.
• The abundance of beneficial bugs has declined significantly in recent years.
• Most birds need bugs as a high-protein food for their babies.
• More than a third of the food we eat requires pollination by bugs.
• A major factor in the decline of birds and bees is loss of suitable habitat.
This buckeye butterfly (above) is sipping nectar from the flowers of mountain mint, Pycanthemum incanum. This plant is a favorite for many kinds of pollinators!
The Web of Life
Studies show that more than 95% of songbirds in North America need bugs, and caterpillars in particular, to feed their young. Many people provide seed for birds in feeders, but growing chicks need more protein than bird seed provides. All those leaf-eating caterpillars provide an excellent source of protein for baby birds!
Much landscaping of our developed areas is dominated by plants that are not native to this part of the world. Many of our native animals cannot eat non-native plants — they simply can't digest them. So, by limiting our landscaping to non-native plants, we are effectively removing those areas from the food web. Most of our plant-eating animals are bugs which are then eaten by other bugs or by birds and salamanders, frogs, lizards, and even bats. If there are no native plants, then we cannot expect these other animals to be there either.
Some of the plants commonly used in landscaping do provide a good source of nectar for butterflies. But many juvenile butterflies (caterpillars) can only eat certain kinds of native plants. So, the more non-native plants we have, even if they do provide nectar, are not helping butterfly populations grow since they do not provide food for the babies.
One sign that a plant is not usable by animals in your yard is a lack of holes in leaves. Seeing holes in leaves of plants is a good thing! That means there are plenty of bugs providing a source of food for the higher levels of the food chain.