Creating biodiversity one landscape at a time | Bustani State

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Monmouth University hosted Doug Tallamy on January 23 for a lecture on creating a network of local national parks, by growing native plants in our own backyards.

Tallamy is a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware and the best-selling author of Nature’s Best Hope. Tallamy’s talk focused on what people can do in their backyards to create ecological landscapes that can help improve biodiversity in the Garden State.

Tallamy stated that one of the most important things we can do to support biodiversity is to plant native plant species in our landscapes. Native plants support a wide range of native insects, including butterflies and moths, and these insects are a major food source for birds. By planting native plants, we establish the foundations of the food chain and restore the health and function of the local ecosystem.

The larvae that feed on plants are eaten by birds and used to feed the nests of young birds. Most non-native plant species do not support very many of our native insects or birds in the same way that native plants do.

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A very useful tool to help liven up your garden can be found at originalplantfinder.nwf.org. This online resource provides specific lists of native plants ranked by the number of butterflies and moths that use them as host plants for their caterpillars. Clicking the link and entering your zip code will lead you to a wide selection of native plants that have proven to do well in your area. Included in the list of natives are flowers, herbs, trees and shrubs.

In discussing native species, Tallamy emphasized “keystone species,” the most important plants in our local ecosystem. The stone types resemble the “key” stone in ancient Roman arches. Remove the “key” stone and the arch will collapse. Remove keystone plants and the diversity and abundance of many keystone insect species will diminish.

Keystone species are plants that have formed symbiotic relationships with local wildlife over millions of years, creating the most productive and sustainable wildlife habitats. Keystone plants are unique to local food webs within ecoregions.

At the top of Tallamy’s list of “essential species” is the oak tree. Native oaks can support the caterpillars of more than 500 species of butterflies and moths, which happen to be the vital food source for more than 96 percent of songbirds. Illustrating the importance of the acorn as a keystone species, a pair of Carolina chickadees requires 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars to raise just one young brood. Chickadees, among many other birds, depend on oak trees.

Besides Keystone Species, Tallamy discussed his local national park initiative. This is a group effort of individual homeowners, property owners, land managers, farmers, and anyone with some soil to plant to start a new habitat by planting native plants and removing most invasive plants. He stressed that although our national park system is large, it is too small and isolated to provide sufficient habitat for the many animals that depend on our natural areas for their survival. The initial goal of Homegrown National Park is for homeowners to collectively plant 20 million acres of native plant species in their yards across the United States. This represents approximately half of the lawns of private property.

Tallamy’s letter calls for small efforts by many people to create new ecological networks that will increase plant and animal populations throughout the county. Home Grown National Park is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The website homegrownnationalpark.org/about-us/ is very helpful.

William Erickson is the agriculture and natural resources agent at Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Monmouth County. Dennis McNamara is a fellow in the agriculture program at Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Monmouth County.

This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Creating biodiversity one landscape at a time | Bustani State

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