Our Food Chain
Relies on Native Plant Communities
black capped chickadee on winterberry
The Other Pollinators
While not as efficient as bees at pollination, our other pollinators (butterflies, moths, flower flies, beetles and birds) are no less important. They are vital contributors to the ecosystem. In addition to pollination, they and other beneficial insects provide the base of our food web. Without them, survival of the human race is unlikely.
To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.
Many scientists have declared that this dramatic and quick decline in insect populations is the earth’s “sixth mass extinction event”. Unlike the dinosaurs that were wiped out by a space rock, this insect decline that we are experiencing is caused by human activity. We have nothing else to blame. We have done this by:
- degrading natural habits with urbanization and agriculture
- the use of insecticides and other chemical pollutants
- the importation of invasive plant species
Is this insect decline really a problem for humans? After all, it makes our yards less “buggy” and our picnics more pleasant. It absolutely is a problem for us if we want food at our picnics. Insects are the foundation of our food chain.
Do you remember decades ago when you would look up at a street lamp at night? It would be a buzz with insects. Take a look now and what do you see?
Do you remember decades ago when your car windshield would be splattered with bugs after a nightime car ride? Is it still?
Do you remember decades ago when you would see bright, fuzzy caterpillars make their way across the sidewalk? When was the last time you saw one?
Do you remember decades ago when lightning bugs and “doodle” bugs were abundant? How many do you see now?
pearl crescent butterfly on native aster
ironweed moth on zinnia
Butterflies And Moths
Butterfly and moth populations have greatly declined over the last few decades. Even if we plant some pretty flowers that they like to visit we will not solve this problem. We need to give them the native plants that they need to reproduce. Since most beneficial insects are specialists, they require the native plants with which they have evolved in order to multiply. A monarch butterfly can only lay its egg on milkweed. A red admiral butterfly needs nettle to reproduce. A black bordered lemon moth needs morning glory. The list goes on. Our butterflies and moths rely on the native plant communities that have largely been removed from our landscapes. Birds that are one step up the food chain need those nutrient dense caterpillars to raise their young. It is no surprise that our bird population is also on the decline.
We Need Birds
Whether it is the cheerful bird song that comes through our window or the excitement of seeing the first spring robin in our yard, birds bring much joy to our lives. They also provide services that are essential in maintaining the ecosystems on which all life depends.
- Birds keep destructive agricultural and forest insects in check. If we had no agriculture we would have no food and if we had no forests we would have no climate.
- Birds help to pollinate flowering plants across the globe.
- Birds (as well as insects) supply waste removal services that prevent disease. Over its lifetime, a single vulture provides waste disposal services worth many thousands of dollars. Following the collapse of Asia’s vulture population, India’s feral dog population surged to 5.5 million. This caused the spread of rabies and led to an estimated loss of 47,300 human lives.
- Birds spread seed and bring plants back to ecosystems that have been destroyed.
- Birds maintain the delicate balance between plant and herbivore, predator and prey. They help sustain forests, marshes, grasslands and prairies. By doing this they help store carbon and keep our climate stable.
Because birds are so important to the ecosystems that sustain us, it is quite troubling that the North American bird population has declined 29 percent since 1970. This continuous decline is largely caused by habitat loss. We need birds and birds need native plants.
bluejays on red chokeberry
ruby throated hummingbird on native honeysuckle
goldfinch on purple coneflower