What Good Is Biodiversity?
Increasing the diversity of plants in your yard will increase the diversity of other forms of life in your yard. It just happens. You probably won't notice most of them. New butterfly? You might notice! But soil insects, microbes, other creepy crawly things--unless you're more scientifically inclined, you are unlikely to pull out the trusty microscope and probe your dirt. But is the increase in buggy things and their predators a good thing? (
Photo at right: a new bug. I have no idea what he is. But he's cute.
Yes, yes and more yes.
Let's start with the aesthetic. One of my Facebook friends was overjoyed this week with a new bird in her backyard. Based on her description, I'm guessing a
want one of these jewels brightening the birdbath in late fall? Increased songbird sightings are one of the benefits of diversifying your backyard plantings. Songbirds need things to eat, and many of them aren't all that interested in seeds. They need some meaty things to sink a beak into. When you diversify your plantings, you increase the variety of insects that evolved to chew on those plants. Both the butterfly-type insects and the not-as-attractive ones. More songbirds, more butterflies--definite pluses.
Next yes? Let's examine the enclosed link for this post, from
. I quote:
—healthy biodiversity is essential to human health. As species disappear, infectious diseases rise in humans and throughout the animal kingdom, so extinctions directly affect our health and chances for survival as a species.
The article goes on to point out that two solutions to the problem of rising infectious diseases are to reduce human/animal interactions and to increase large tracts of habitat. While a city or suburban backyard doesn't exactly qualify as a "large tract," several backyards in the same neighborhood planted to support wildlife can definitely have an impact on songbird populations (just as an example). But we want the birds there to be eating mosquitoes--we don't want the kids to go play with the baby birds in the nest. The first activity contributes to our personal health. The second puts our health at risk.
The root article appeared in
-- and here's a piece you have to read for yourself:
In other examples, three separate investigations found strong links between low bird diversity and increased incidence of West Nile encephalitis in the United States. Communities with low bird diversity were dominated by species susceptible to the virus; this induced high infection rates in mosquitoes and people. By contrast, communities that were home to a greater range of birds contained many species that were not good hosts for the virus.
A summary of the studies concluded that biodiversity helps to stop the spread of infectious disease.
One of the mantras of environmental education is that Everything Is Connected. We just don't always know the connections. It would, in fact, be asking a lot to understand each connection we as individuals have with the rest of the natural world. Research like that described in the Scientific American article is crucial to our understanding so that we can make better decisions about what we choose to support in our own backyards. (
Photo at left: robins and cedar waxwings bathing in spray from a sprinkler.