Creating a geography of hope

On March 16th, Douglas Tallamy, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, came to the Niagara Power Vista in Niagara Falls to talk about the benefit of native species in the environment. The talk was sponsored by the Western New York Land Conservancy.

Just recently, there was a conference in California, called “Geography of Hope.” It’s about stewardship, creativity, and community.  Nancy Smith, executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy said, “How can I make a difference in my life, in the community, and in the world?”

“Let’s create our own geography of hope. Planting native plants builds community and brings joy to our lives,” 

The best place to create this geography of hope is…

Nancy Smith: Doug Tallamy has been my hero for quite some time. He said, “You don’t have to put the native plants just in your back yard, Nancy. Put them in your front yard.” He dislikes a back yard habitat because it make it seems as if the plants are “so ugly that you have to hide then in the back yard.”

What does the geography of hope look like? Does it include non-native species?

Douglas Tallamy defined a novel ecosystem as containing organisms, which have no evolutionary history. They have had no time to develop relationships with birds.

But… are novel ecosystems bad or good? Or, as Douglas Tallamy asked, “Do introduced species have a net positive or negative effect?”

There are differing opinions on this. Some scientists say that there is nothing wrong with plant invasions and that we like ornamental non-native plants. 

But… some of those non-native plant species are invasive and they take over, crowding out the native species. Douglas Tallamy mentioned several plant species that were replaced by non-native species. In the Florida Everglades, the invasive species Melaleura killed off the river of grass. Here, in Western New York, Phragmite is killing wetland species.

Douglas Tallamy: “The local loss of species is not something we should celebrate. Think of invasives as tumors. This is serious and they are changing our ecosystem.”

What types of species do you need to make your ecosystem healthy again?

For birds and insects, you need plants that they feed on. Doug Tallamy: Ninety percent of the insects that eat plants can eat only one particular type of plant. Hummingbirds eat insects and spiders.They they drink sugar water. And it’s not just birds that need insects. Twenty-five percent of a red fox’s diet is insects and 23 percent of a black bear’s diet is insects.

If the insects are gone from the environment, what happens?

a world without insects is a world without biodiversity. a world without biodiversity is a world without humans. extinction as a measure is like only going to the doctor when you’re dead.

You lose birds and thousands of species.

How can the problem be fixed?
Plant native species in your yard. “You can make a formal native garden, with a manicured lawn. It is a planned landscape,” said Douglas Tallamy. The goal is to recreate the function of your native ecosystem.

Are there trees and shrubs and perennials that make the atmosphere more inviting for birds and pollinating insects and that will co-exist in a climate with many diverse species of animals and plants?

Well, yes. Everything starts with plants. There are eleven species of bees that only forage on goldenrod. In Central America, there is a bird called the resplendant quetzal. It is the national bird of Guatemala. It is from the trogon family. It needs wild avocado trees to survive. Because of habitat loss, the resplendant quetzal is listed as near threatened.

Jaguars need palm trees.

Some trees support a few species of caterpillar, while other support many. Ginko supports four species of caterpillars, while oak trees support 557 species of caterpillars. “Oak trees are a powerhouse of food,” Douglas Tallamy pointed out.

This caterpillar has been named
“The Donald.”

But they have to be a native species. The sawtooth oak is from China. It produces bitter acorns that the wildlife will not eat.

Are there any places where planting native species has been a priority?

Toronto has been all native for two decades.
Other places where an emphasis has been placed on planting native species include Nashville, Tennessee, and California.

we are changing the culture. In the past, plants were seen as decoration. Now, they are seen as attractive and functional.

8 thoughts on “Creating a geography of hope”

  1. I love the idea of geography of hope – I’ve seen too many instances where invasive species have wiped out native species and it’s had a permanent effect on the landscapes here in Australia. I agree that we should think of invasives as tumors – it’s funny because with all the damage we as human beings are doing to the environment, and largely invasive species are because we have introduced them, you have to wonder – are we just as bad a tumor on the earth!

  2. Yes, I love the idea of geography of hope. It sounds alive and viable. I love dandelions whereas my neighbor wants to obliterate it and all other 'weeds' chemically. She even does it to our lawn. So it is a challenge trying to educate her.

  3. This is an interesting read. So sad to know about the devastating effects of intrusive species. We have modified our ecosystem so much that I wonder how long will it take to change it back to its initial state.


    And, then, you have to have the resiliency to withstand the pressures of your neighbors (and, occasionally, the regulators) that your lawn is replete with "weeds"….

  5. I think more people should garden, whether it be a flower or vegetable garden. I think we lose something when we become disconnected from nature.

  6. A lot of "food for thought" here and I mostly agree with one asterisk.What is native is only native today in a point of time. If we went back 500 years, for example, before Europeans came, what might "native" have meant? One example: We mourn the decrease in honeybee populations, for example, but many of us don't realize that honeybees are not native to North America; they actually were brought to North America by European colonists in the nearly to mid 1600's. So, here is an introduction that has had over 400 years to adapt and become an integral part of our environment. I do agree there are many aggressive non native plants, but not all introductions are invasive or even harmful. Many, but not all. Nature is always complex!

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