These days we are all bombarded with news about big issues like climate change and biodiversity loss. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming and hopeless that we as individuals can make a difference but we can! Each one of us has the power to take a little bit of our outdoor space and turn it into habitat for a variety of wildlife. Grow Wild YYC wants to help empower you to make a difference and enjoy the benefits of nature on your doorstep by using native vegetation to support wildlife.
What is biodiversity and why does it matter? Well simply put, biodiversity is the variety of life in a system. It can be measured in your backyard, your city, country or the world. Biodiversity is one of the pillars that helps life on earth stay strong in the face of continuous change. As we confront changing conditions, the more diversity there is, the more likely life will adapt and thrive. Unfortunately, due in large part to the actions of people, it is estimated that around 1 million species are in danger of disappearing. Recent studies suggest 40% of insect species are in decline and North America alone is suspected to have lost almost 30% of our birds in the last 50 years. These numbers sound scary but there is good news. In many cases we have a good idea of what is leading to declines and knowledge is power. Now that we know, we can do something about it. For a lot of species, habitat loss and the food that goes with it is the biggest driver of decline. Even a small habitat patch created in your urban garden can make the world of difference for a migrating bird or a butterfly looking to lay her eggs.
Preeminent scientist and naturalist E.O. Wilson called invertebrates including insects, worms and spiders, "the little things that run the world". Without these creatures, life on earth would be much different. Many plants depend on insect pollinators to thrive, birds need insects, spiders and worms to successfully raise their young. Amphibians, reptiles and many mammals including people either directly or indirectly depend on them as well.
What do many insects need to survive? Plants. And not just any plants. Over hundreds, thousands or in same cases millions of years, insects have developed relationships with specific plants. For instance, the caterpillars of monarch butterflies can only feed from milkweed plants. Without milkweed, there are no monarchs. While introduced plants can provide sustenance for some insects and other animals, many need the plants they evolved with to survive, therefore, to help the insects that feed the birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, the plants that these insects evolved with need to be available. That is where native plants come in. These are the plants that so many of our insects have evolved with. By bringing these plants into our garden spaces, we provide the opportunity for insects to thrive and in turn support other life.
Native plants are beneficial in other ways too. Because they evolved in our climate, they are better able to withstand the fluctuations we see in Southern Alberta including chinooks and summer droughts. Once established, native plants don't need much care.
Making a difference for biodiversity is on our doorsteps but also beyond. There are many other small actions we can all take.
In our gardens: limit or eliminate the use of synthetic chemicals.
Provide fresh water, hiding spots and places to rest for birds and insects
In our homes: pay attention to where the food we eat and products we buy come from. Look for labels that show companies care about biodiversity such as certifications from Rainforest Alliance or the Forestry Stewardship Council. Many companies have sustainability initiatives on their website. A company without a sustainability initiative likely isn't thinking much about birds and bees.
Outside our homes, stay up to date on environmental initiatives in your area. Write to your councilor, MLA and MP to let them know that biodiversity matters to you. Support initiatives locally and globally that support biodiversity.