Blooming or grooming: Do current landscape practices support or inhibit trophic diversity?

by sward5 on April 17, 2015 - 2:33pm

I originally wrote my first blog on a Saturday morning when I was hungover and perusing through the internet.  I was looking through the ELF’s (Earth Liberation Front) homepage that involved an interview with a former member who had changed from his violent activist mentalities to that of a peaceful, political one.  He realized after losing time and gaining patience (in jail), that violent and destructive means to a problem only yield more problems. 

So here I sit, once again, wanting to spew off bullshit about the government, radical action, God damn George bush…

But really, I should be writing about what I care about…

It’s plants. Big surprise.  The photosynthetic green autotrophs of the world; the selfless producers that make all further radiations of life possible.  That’s right, they make all other life forms possible.  And you could contest with statements regarding ocean dwelling chimney vent communities and the like, but I am still MOSTLY correct. 

Angiosperm , or flowering plant diversity has given rise to terrestrial animal diversity characteristically higher today than any other time period before (Burger, 1981).  You could make the argument that the co-evolution of flowering plants and animal (specifically insect) diversity are contingent upon each other, but you still peed your pants that one time in grade school (people don’t forget). 

The birds, mammals, amphibians, and insects that so greatly interest you would not be possible without the plants they so heavily rely on.  Even plankton assemblages that are inherently crucial to marine food webs are photosynthetic!   And mushrooms, they need dead plant material! So maybe we should look at their role in fragmented habitat, i.e. urban and suburban areas…

Plants ground me, they make me happy to be involved in ecology, they have a million smells, a million colors, and a million shapes.  They breed life, life surrounds them, they are life.  So why should I write about some activist bullshit that no one will read anyways?

So instead, I will write about what I originally should’ve sought out to write about:

Why we should consider different land use practices besides merely mowing our vast, plant-less properties and the potential role of native plants in our lawns in supporting animal populations.

It is known that urbanization often results in biotic homogenization (McKinney, 2005), decreased bird communities (Rottenborn, 1999), decreased wetland amphibian communities (Lehtinen et. al., 1999), and maybe even overall species richness (McKinney, 2005).  But what is less focused on is how we can use urban and suburban gardens as a means for providing faunal species with much needed resources: food and shelter. 

Planting native woody plant species in our yards can be the first step towards increasing avian carrying capacities.  In one suburban study, it was shown that properties with all native plantings supported 8 times more bird species than properties with typical non-native plant assemblages (Tallamy, 2009). 

Second, a change in our perception of insects may also need to take place.  With entomology, there often exists a “disgust sensitivity” when younger students and the average person alike must handle or interact with species.  In fact, it has been shown that obstacles to environmental education exist in overcoming younger student’s fear or disgusts of organic matter.  In one study, it was shown that students with a higher “disgust factor” were less willing to collect aquatic invertebrates in mucky areas, or regions with higher organic matter, even though less insects were available in those areas that were deemed "cleaner" where water was clearer and there was little algae or organic matter (Bixler and Floyd, 1999).

Lastly, the landscape needs to be viewed as an environment that humans are a part of, and not merely an area to be dominated.   Some point towards the Hebrew bible as the root of human’s despotic views on the role of nature (Kay, 2010).  The traditional Christian and Jewish interpretations of the Bible include man’s complete domination of the land and all of the 6,000 year old species within it.  When more humans begin to see how they can actually provide for their surrounding ecosystems, as opposed to dominating it, we may begin to see decreased ecosystem strain at the local and global levels. 

Unlike acidification of the oceans, global warming, or Amazonian habitat loss, this is something all of you can directly become involved in and make actual change!  Learn what species are native, which species are not, and then plant some shit!


Sources cited:

Bixler, R. D., & Floyd, M. F. 1999. Hands on or hands off? Disgust sensitivity and preference for environmental education activities. The Journal of Environmental Education30(3), 4-11.

Burger, W. C. 1981. Why are there so many kinds of flowering plants?.Bioscience31(8), 572-581.

Burghardt, K. T., Tallamy, D. W., & Gregory Shriver, W. 2009. Impact of native plants on bird and butterfly biodiversity in suburban landscapes.Conservation Biology23(1), 219-224.

Kay, J. 1989. Human dominion over nature in the Hebrew Bible. Annals of the Association of American Geographers79(2), 214-232.

Lehtinen, R. M., Galatowitsch, S. M., & Tester, J. R. 1999. Consequences of habitat loss and fragmentation for wetland amphibian assemblages. Wetlands,19(1), 1-12.

Rottenborn, S. C. 1999. Predicting the impacts of urbanization on riparian bird communities. Biological conservation88(3), 289-299.

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