I had a wonderful experience as a guest blogger for Nature Canada, working with Sam Nurse, Website and Social Media Coordinator. Checkout my piece: Recipe for a garden full of birds, butterflies, and bees.
When a tree dies, its role in the ecosystem changes, but it is still a home. Some bird species utilize dead trees. A dead tree is bird habitat, and habitat for hundreds of other species, especially fungi and insects, that are specialized feeders on dead wood. I've written about dead wood as habitat in a previous post on click beetles.
In my lifetime I've seen many dead trees cut down for the sole reason that they were ugly or unsightly. Sometimes a dead tree poses a hazard to people, and in that case it should come down.
I took the photographs above on 14 June, and posted the top one on Twitter shortly after. I observed the male red-bellied woodpecker drumming just before I took the photo (top). There were multiple snags. The pair of flickers (below) were engaged in courtship. Yes, these are common species, but they are beautiful nonetheless. They have value.
About a week later I discovered that the snags had been cut down and removed. It is possible they were determined to be a hazard to people, but I doubt it, given the location and the project going on. Even if they were deemed a hazard, could the design have been altered to keep the people and the other species' homes safe?
If a tree must be cut down, don't remove it. Leave it on the ground, if possible. But please try to keep dead trees standing by designing people-spaces around them. Let dead trees be. They are home for other species.
Disclosure: Please don't eat fruits, berries, seeds or any plant parts unless you are certain of the identification of the plant. Some native plants can be toxic!
I am really into edible native plants. What could be more appealing than a beautiful, natural plant that feeds our native wild animals, and us too?! This is not the first time I've written about this subject. See my piece about eating beechnuts. Tonight I'm writing about my top 3 favourite native edibles, black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), Common elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and river grape (Vitis riparia), all of which we have in our biodiversity garden. Black chokeberry is a hideous common name, so I call it the more appropriate "Nina's favourite jam plant". The fruits make the most delicious jam, and they're loaded with antioxidants. Read more on the Wikipedia page on Aronia. All fruits are edible raw, but they are not what I'd call tasty until they've been cooked with sugar. We usually mix the three fruits together in random combinations -- warning, I often wing-it when I cook! We buy pectin at the grocery store and follow one of the recipes that comes in the box. We always make some jelly too, by mashing then straining the fruits to get pure juice (elderberry and river grape have large seeds). We often add lemon, and sometimes ginger. Sometimes we mix in store-bought fruits. Whatever works! We love to experiment and try new food combinations. Regardless, it is our favourite jam/jelly, and we eat it all winter long.
People are often surprised when they learn that I have a PhD in systematic entomology, and a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design. I'm a classic multipotentialite (thank you, Emilie Wapnick). Photography has not only been essential for teaching, learning and doing science, it is my art. One of the side benefits of biodiversity gardening is that native plants are photogenic. They are infinitely more beautiful than most alien garden plant species that have been selectively bred by humans (and, they attract the brilliant six-legged animals...) Let me introduce you to my subjects, and my science-based art.
Just over five years ago I came up with the term "biodiversity gardening" to describe gardening with native plants. On Earth Day 2011 I launched this educational website, and biodiversity gardening came into being. Gardening with native plants increases biodiversity, compared to conventional gardening practices utilizing alien plants. It is really quite a simple concept. Terrestrial ecosystems are comprised of species of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and other organisms that coevolved over evolutionary time. Many of the food webs are based on obligatory relationships, such as those of plants and leaf-feeding insects. There are many kinds of insects that feed on fresh green leaves, and they require the native host plants they coevolved with. They can't feed on alien plants. Essentially, a healthy ecosystem will have a diversity and abundance of native plants, which will support a diversity and abundance of native insects, which will in turn support healthy populations of other animals that feed on insects, such as birds. It is common knowledge that habitat loss is the number one cause of biodiversity decline today. In order to have habitat, you've got to have native plants. Native plants are the foundation of healthy ecosystems. Do your part -- transform your backyard into a biodiversity oasis with native plants. Start your biodiversity garden today. What a great way to celebrate Earth Day!
Many gardeners dutifully plant nectar sources for adult butterflies. But they may not be aware of the details of the life cycle of butterflies. Most butterflies require native plants in order to reproduce. Butterflies start out in life as eggs, then hatch into caterpillars. Most caterpillars are specialist feeders, and eat only a few species of native plants they coevolved with. Butterflies will only lay their eggs on their native host plants; caterpillars will eat only these same host plants. The typical North American garden full of alien plants such as periwinkle, hostas, Norway maple, etc., and even the so-called butterfly bush, will not feed our native caterpillars. If you want butterflies, you've got to have caterpillars, and caterpillars require the fresh green leaves of native plants. And, the flowers of native plants are excellent pollen and nectar sources for all pollinators. Most of us are aware that the monarch butterfly requires native milkweeds for its caterpillar. It is no exception. If all gardens had host plants for caterpillars, butterflies might not be in decline.
The Medway Valley Heritage Forest Environmentally Significant Area (ESA) is a remnant patch of the once vast Eastern Deciduous Forest Biome that covered much of southern Ontario and the eastern United States. Medway Creek runs through the valley and eventually flows into the north fork of the Thames River. Most of the ESA is owned by the City of London, Ontario; some of it is privately owned.
The photos were taken from June 2011 to January 2014. The focus is the biodiversity in and around a wetland located in the section of the ESA that is south of Fanshawe Park Road. This wetland is supplied by groundwater that discharges to the surface; it drains into Medway Creek. Most of the images were taken within the ESA; a few were taken on private property within 20 meters of the ESA boundary. All species pictured are native species and are naturally occurring in the ESA, as far as is known (images copyright NM Zitani and RG Thorn)
The following is a review I submitted via email (to: firstname.lastname@example.org) on 23 January. I thought my readers would find my comments of interest. Relevant to everyone is the very last comment -- How individuals can take action -- which I've made bold so you can find it easily.
"To Whom it May Concern:
The following are my comments on "Pollinator Health: A Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario".
The primary issue is that the report lumps the introduced/alien/non-native and invasive honey bee ("Apis mellifera") in with native insect pollinators, i.e., it defines "pollinators" as native bees and the invasive alien honey bee, and other native insects such as butterflies. My first argument is that if you want to tackle "pollinator health" you can't lump the honey bee with native pollinators. The honey bee was brought to North America to pollinate crops. Agriculture, or converting natural, wild habitat to cropland is one of the major causes of habitat loss, which has lead to a decline in native pollinators (of all types). E.g., there are fewer places for ground-nesting native bumble bees to nest, fewer rotting logs for native halictid bees to nest in, fewer patches of native flora that the 100's of species of native Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) depend on for food (caterpillars can eat only leaves of native plants; monarch butterfly is only one of ~ 170 butterfly species in Ontario). Furthermore, honey bees compete with native bees and other native pollinators for floral resources (pollen and nectar). We've all seen honey bees in our gardens and conservation areas. They don't stay on agricultural lands when they forage. Also, some species of native plants cannot be pollinated by honey bees, but require bumble bees for pollination (buzz pollination, which honey bees cannot perform).
In addition to ignoring this inherent conflict, the report favours the honey bee over all other pollinators in that it gives more attention to the honey bee -- much of the report is devoted to the honey bee. I haven't counted words, but it is apparent when reading it. And it lacks information explaining the vastly different types of biologies/life cycles found in different pollinators, namely that all bees are specialized on pollen and nectar and their young require pollen to develop, whereas immature lepidopterans (caterpillars) require fresh green leaves of their native host plants to develop, and adults require nectar only to drink to remain active (p. 6: 4. Exploring the "Four Stressors": Pollinator Habitat and Nutrition). It sometimes uses terms that are too generic (e.g. "bee" or "pollinator"). The very first sentence of the report, in the introduction states, "Improving bee health in Ontario...". There, at least, it should say "Improving pollinator health...".
Scientific names should be used at the first mention of a species. Scientific names serve an essential purpose of informing the reader of the species being discussed, and it is not acceptable to leave them out entirely. It should be stated in parentheses, after the common name, e.g.,"...the honey bee ("Apis mellifera")". If a reader is not interested in the scientific name, then they can ignore it.
On p. 1 above the photo of the bumble bee it states "Approximately 75 percent of all flowering plants...". This figure is too low. There is no citation (and I don't have a reference for you, but you can certainly find one by looking), but I'm sure this is incorrect and the correct is somewhere between 80-90%.
A token nod to Species at Risk in Ontario is at the very end of Section A, p. 8. -- Rusty-patched bumble bee. Please provide a more in-depth discussion of this SAR species, somewhere in section A. As mentioned above, include the scientific name ("Bombus affinis").
Section B: Reducing Neonicotinoid Use: what a great idea! This couldn't happen soon enough. If you want an excellent, outside starter read go to: "A large and growing body of research demonstrates that these pesticides harm multiple bee species..."
p. 17: Next Steps – How to Respond: How individuals can take action: Other ways you can help:
This section is misleading and lacking in information. The first part of this section should be directed to all people: farmers, beekeepers and everyone else, and it should urge all people to create pollinator habitat by native plant gardening, native plant landscaping and ecological restoration. Loss of pollinator habitat is everyone’s problem, and anyone who owns land, or has permission to plant a garden on someone else’s land (e.g., via a community garden, or permission to garden on a rental property or place of work), can easily be a part of the solution. The act of planting just one native flowering plant matters, and the cumulative effect of each person in Ontario doing so would be enormous.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
If you want to do something to help the plight of insect pollinators in your community, create a native plant garden. Pollinators thrive on native plants, whereas they do not thrive on non-native, or alien plants. Most of our garden and landscaping plants are alien species. Native plants provide ample nectar and pollen for insect pollinators, such as bees, to eat. Most (not all) alien plants also provide nectar and pollen. But the key difference between native and alien plants lies in the leaves of the plant. Insect pollinators such as butterflies (and most all native leaf-feeding insects), can feed only on the leaves of the particular native plants they coevolved with. The classic example is the monarch butterfly. The monarch caterpillars can feed only on native milkweeds. They cannot feed on the leaves of alien plants. The adult butterfly will take nectar from alien plants, but the caterpillars require native milkweed leaves to survive. Most of us plant in the spring, but fall is a great time to plant. If you are wary of native plants, pick just one or two species and try them out. What are you waiting for? The time to plant your native pollinator garden is now!
Click beetles, or elaterids, are so-named because they can move their body in such a way as to cause a snap or click that is both forceful and noisy. The use of their specialized body parts, located on the underside of their body, and a threatening situation, such as being grasped by a predator, brings on the clicking behavior. The species pictured, the eyed elater, Alaus oculatus, is native to the eastern deciduous forest ecosystem of North America. The eyespots, or false eyes on the thorax also undoubtedly help to deter visually searching predators, such as birds. This beetle, like many other insects, fungi and other organisms, requires dead wood as habitat. The larvae live in dead wood on the forest floor, and are predators of other insects, including wood-boring beetle larvae. When a tree falls, it does not go to waste in nature. It becomes a new home for native biodiversity such as the eyed elater. Read more about this beetle on the University of Florida IFAS Extension page.