Experts fret over loss of biodiversity

In case you missed it, the Daily Local News published the wonderful article below on Friday, February 13, written by Anne Pickering. Thank you to Daily Local News and Anne for allowing us to share this with you.

MEDIA — Across suburban landscapes a new movement is growing, one possibly as revolutionary as the first cry to save open space that went up at the end of the last century when land planners recognized the danger of urban sprawl.

Across the country and particularly in heavily suburban landscapes like Chester County, a new danger has been identified: It is the loss of biodiversity, the huge variety of animal life that is disappearing from the planet."If you walk down the street and ask somebody what is the major problem of the world, they will not say an extinction crisis," said Douglas Tallamy, professor and chairman of the entomology and wildlife ecology department at the University of Delaware, who addresseda crowd of 150 people at Penn State's Brandywine campus Sunday.

"It's not on their horizon. People don't believe it. They think nature is happy someplace else. It doesn't matter what we do to our local plants, there is always a bit of nature someplace else," Tallamy said.But increasingly that bit of nature someplace else is in as big a trouble as the nature closer to home.

Tallamy, the featured speaker at a lecture hosted by the Chester-Ridley-Crum Watershed Association and the Habitat Resource Network of Southeast Pennsylvania, is at the forefront of the movement to save local biodiversity. He urges residents to turn their backyards into wildlife sanctuaries chiefly through the vehicle of planting native species.

Research conducted by Tallamy and others reveal the close link between insects and plants they eat, he said. Because the two evolved together, to increase the number of birds, you have to give them something to eat and somewhere to live — both functions of native plant life.The problem is the proliferation of ornamental plants from Asia, Europe and even the Pacific Northwest. "Most of our native plant-eaters are not able to eat alien plants," Tallamy says in his book, "Bringing Nature Home."

"And we are replacing native plants with alien species at an alarming rate, especially in the suburban gardens on which our wildlife increasingly depends."But the good news is the trend can be reversed and is relatively easy to do by replacing alien plants with native plants.There are organizations available to help homeowners and municipalities such as Habitat Resource Network that train people to be habitat stewards.

Tallamy urged homeowner associations to plant native species on open-space land, in stormwater swales and around ponds that serve as detention basins. He advocated for planting native trees such as an oak tree that 517 different species of caterpillars can eat. The caterpillars will attract birds and other insect-loving species. He recommended that the size of lawns be reduced and allow areas to revert to meadow.

The ideas were interesting to Terry Woodman, East Whiteland township manager, who attended the event. Part of the township is in the Chester-Ridley-Crum watershed.The township mandates landscaping in connection with new land development projects.Woodman said she would look at the list of tree species that the township recommends to see if they are native species. Letting lawns revert back to a meadow is a concept that is a little problematic in East Whiteland because most lots are only a half-acre. Residents worry about what effect a house that doesn't mow its lawn would have on property values, she said."I can see it working in a township such as Willistown with much larger lot sizes," said Woodman.

To contact staff writer Anne Pickering,
send an e-mail to apickering@dailylocal.com.

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