An ecologist explains how to turn your garden into "national park"

There are 6 easy steps you can take to support local ecosystems.

Originally Published: 

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Our ecosystems are in trouble.

Scientists warn we could be in the middle of the sixth mass extinction.


Birds disappeared from North America in the past 50 years

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Of wild bees in the US have declined from 2008 to 2013.

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Because most land in the United States is privately owned, experts say we can't rely on national parks for conservation.

Doug Tallamy, an ecologist and professor at the University of Delaware, explains in his book Nature's Best Hope how conservation can start in your own backyard.

Photo by Doug Tallamy

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"A single person can be a piece in the overall puzzle of conservation," Tallamy tells Inverse.

Here are 6 steps you can take to improve the ecosystem around you.

1. Reduce the size of your lawn by half

Big lawns wreck habitat for insects, Tallamy explains. This hurts the rest of the ecosystem that depends on them.

To help, cut your lawn in half. This is an example of a bad, big lawn. ☝️

Doug Tallamy

2. Grow "keystone" native plants.

Just 5 percent of plants support 75 percent of the food web, Tallamy says.

They're the "workhorses of our ecosystems."

Find your area's keystone native species with the Native Plant Finder tool online.

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For example, a few keystone tree species in the Northeast are oak trees, wild cherry trees, and willows.

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3. Reduce your light pollution

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Artificial light messes with nature, especially insects. Instead:

- Use motion sensors in your lights

- Yellow LED bulbs are least likely to attract insects

These small changes could save billions of insects overnight, Tallamy explains.

4. Don't mow around trees

It takes thousands of caterpillars to feed just a few birds.

You can keep caterpillars safe by leaving a no-mow zone around trees. Better yet, Tallamy says, plant keystone native plants there instead.

Photo: Doug Tallamy

Caterpillar munching on tiny oak tree — proving the trees are worth planting even if they don't reach full size.

Doug Tallamy

Doug Tallamy

5. Stop using pesticides

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Compared to professional farmers, homeowners use up to 10 times the amount of pesticides per acre.

"You don't need it," Tallamy says. "Almost all of that is absolutely unnecessary."

Doug Tallamy

6. Get rid of invasive species

Invasive means both non-native and harmful to the environment — often because they can spread rapidly.

They're often introduced as ornamental plants for gardens and landscaping.

Doug Tallamy

If your yard has invasive plant species, the US Forest Service recommends you remove them and replace them with native plants that support the ecosystem.

Doug Tallamy

"We need to have functioning ecosystems all around us.”

—Doug Tallamy

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