The development of cities displaces wildlife and affects the natural ecosystem of an area. Most of us have heard about the decline of bumble bees. A loss of nest sites, pesticides, reductions in floral resources, and habitat fragmentation contribute to the epidemic reduction in the bee population, according to researchers in the School of Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, in the UK. But "the single greatest threat to the biological diversity of relatively intact natural communities in and around urban areas is the destruction of natural habitats and their conversion to other uses," writes Dennis D. Murphy in Biodiversity, "Challenges to Biological Diversity in Urban Areas." Urbanization threatens the ecosystem unless we take steps to protect the native animals and plant life.
Getty / Lori Adamski Peek
One of the ways that we can ensure that these animals and plants continue for future generations is in the way that we cultivate our gardens and lawnscapes. It may seem like a small thing to do, but landscaping with biodiversity in mind can make a major difference in supporting the threatened species in your area. You don't necessarily have to let your yard become wild and untamed, but you can definitely factor in the needs of the native plants and animals when designing your backyard and your garden.
Focus on native plants.
Invasive, non-native plants like Purple Loosestrife might be really pretty but can wreak havoc on habitats where they don't naturally fit into the ecosystem. According to Smithsonian Insider, the Purple Loosestrife originates from Europe and temperate Asia but was introduced to America in the 1800s because of its beauty and potential medicinal properties. Now these plants have overtaken the wetlands at an alarming rate. How can you prevent this from happening? Make sure that you know which plants are native to your area and plan your garden accordingly. Native plants can attract more birds to your yard and also attract other important pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Pesticides are chemicals that are designed to eliminate the pests that destroy our plants, but these chemicals have far-reaching side effects beyond killing invasive insects. "In addition to killing insects or weeds, pesticides can be toxic to a host of other organisms including birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants," write Md. Wasim Aktar, Dwaipayan Sengupta, and Ashim Chowdhury in the study "Impact of Pesticides Use in Agriculture: Their Benefits and Hazards." Herbicides also pose a hazard to people, animals, and non-targeted plants.
But how can you control invasive insects without pesticides? Healthy soil and eco-friendly fertilizer can go a long way in minimizing the visitation of pests to your garden over time. You can prevent common pests by using natural methods like planting marigolds around your tomatoes to repel tomato hornworms or shaking off the Japanese beetles from your plants into a drop cloth and relocating them.
Supply fresh water.
Backyard fountains are more than just a pretty decoration for your yard. Birds enjoy getting a fresh drink from water as well as bathing in fresh water. And other local wildlife like bats will be more attracted to your garden when you offer a source of freshwater. The Water For Wildlife program from Bat Conservation International, for example, helps ranchers and range managers provide clean, fresh water for thirsty Western bats. If you don't have a fountain that provide moving, fresh water, then you'll want to make sure to replace the water in your garden every day. Stagnant water is both unsafe and unappealing to the native species that might visit your garden.
Go ahead and attract more bugs.
Bugs are not necessarily a bad thing to have in your garden. Of course, you don't want the insects that might devour your plants overnight, but you do want to attract more bugs that will also attract bats and birds to your yard. Beneficial insects like ladybugs can be a great thing for your garden in many ways. Bats eat insects, so give them a buffet! According to BatsLive, you'll want to incorporate some night-scented plants into your garden like goldenrod or evening primrose. These plants will draw moths to your garden, which will make local bats very happy and entice them to spend time at your place. Attracting more insects to your garden will also stimulate the natural ecosystem. (And if you want to attract bats, make sure that there is no way for them to take up residency in your home by sealing all open spaces into your house.)
Provide shelter and feeders.
You can add feeders and shelters for birds, bats, and frogs to your garden. These animals will provide natural pest control, and you will be supporting their livelihood in your area. Bird and bat shelters should be placed high. Bat houses are best mounted on buildings instead of poles or trees, according to Bat Conservation International. Frogs prefer to hide closer to the ground. A small flower pot that's propped a few inches off the ground with rocks (allowing room for the frogs to enter the cave) can serve as a hiding place for frogs and toads. For feeders, you will want to keep out squirrels and other mammals that can steal the food meant for the birds or bats that you want to visit your garden. The type of food that you offer matters as well. Bird feed like black-oil sunflower seeds or suet attracts different birds to your garden while providing the nutrition that they need to thrive.