Tal­lamy all about lo­cal land­scapes

Lit­tle Wash­ing­ton The­atre lec­ture prom­ises to in­spire

Rappahannock News - - COUNTRYSIDE - By Bruce Jones Spe­cial to the Rap­pa­han­nock News

Ihave been priv­i­leged to hear renowned en­to­mol­o­gist Dr. Doug Tal­lamy speak sev­eral times, and ev­ery time

I learn more about the im­por­tance of the in­ter­re­la­tion­ship be­tween plants, in­sects, birds and mam­mals (in­clud­ing hu­mans). Each time I hear him speak, I am in­spired by his knowl­edge and he moves me to im­prove our habi­tat even more. Tal­lamy is a pro­fes­sor of En­to­mol­ogy in the De­part­ment of En­to­mol­ogy and Wildlife Ecol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Delaware. He is the au­thor of Bring­ing Na­ture Home, and the co-au­thor of The Liv­ing Land­scape.

Tal­lamy’s pre­sen­ta­tion, “Mak­ing In­sects: A guide to restor­ing the lit­tle things that run the world,” at the Lit­tle Wash­ing­ton The­atre, Sun­day, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m., il­lus­trates how im­por­tant bio­di­ver­sity and na­tive plants are to sus­tain­ing wildlife. Ad­mis­sion is free.

BJ: Doug, How did you first dis­cover this unique re­la­tion­ship of in­sects to na­tive plants?

DT: Well, I learned decades ago in grad­u­ate school that most in­sects must spe­cial­ize on one or two plant lin­eages that share a com­mon chem­i­cal de­fense in or­der to de­feat that de­fense. In this way an in­sect species can ac­quire the adap­ta­tions nec­es­sary to by­pass the nasty de­fen­sive chem­i­cals when they eat the leaves. The monarch, for ex­am­ple, has the adap­ta­tions to cir­cum­vent the chem­i­cal de­fenses in milk­weeds. But such spe­cial­iza­tion locks in­sects into eat­ing only the plant they have spe­cial­ized on. Back when I learned this, no one was think­ing about na­tive or non­na­tive plants, and no one was wor­ried about in­va­sive species. It was a walk around our new prop­erty in 2001 that brought all of this back to me. The prop­erty was heav­ily in­vaded by au­tumn olive, Ja­panese hon­ey­suckle, ori­en­tal bit­ter­sweet, mul­ti­flora rose, etc. I no­ticed that in­sects were us­ing the few na­tive plants we had but avoid­ing the non­na­tives. Of course! There is no way in­sects in North Amer­ica could have spe­cial­ized on plants from Asia. Which means our or­na­men­tals and in­va­sive species sup­port very

few in­sects

and that threat­ens lo­cal food webs.

BJ: Are there any com­mon, per­haps out­dated, myths about gar­den­ing or land­scap­ing that you’d like to dis­pel?

DT: I think the biggest mis­con­cep­tion is that plants are just dec­o­ra­tions, and so we should only use the pret­ti­est plants in our land­scapes. We have not thought about what the eco­log­i­cal roles those plants need to be play­ing. An­other myth is that na­ture is happy some­where else, so we don’t need to land­scape for ecosys­tem func­tion at home. That may have been true 50 years ago, but now there is not enough na­ture left to run the ecosys­tems we all de­pend on.

BJ: When you be­gan your ca­reer as an en­to­mol­o­gist and sci­en­tist, did you ever en­vi­sion the eco­log­i­cal path which you’re presently on?

DT: Not in the slight­est. I was in­ter­ested in in­sect be­hav­ior.

BJ: Con­sid­er­ing, for ex­am­ple, the di­min­ish­ing num­ber of bee colonies, fewer and fewer but­ter­flies and birds, etc., how does the fu­ture of our en­vi­ron­ment look to you?

DT: The fu­ture is en­tirely up to us. If we can con­vince enough peo­ple that there is a di­rect con­nec­tion be­tween how well other species are do­ing and our own well-be­ing, then I am op­ti­mistic. If our cul­ture con­tin­ues to think that hu­mans do not need other species, then I am pes­simistic.

BJ: You have been teach­ing en­to­mol­ogy and wildlife ecol­ogy at the U of Delaware for nearly 40 years. What stands out to you as the most im­por­tant is­sue for the world of con­ser­va­tion?

DT: By far the most im­por­tant is­sue in con­ser­va­tion is hu­man pop­u­la­tion growth. There are now 3.5 times more hu­mans than the earth can sup­port in the long run and we are us­ing all the re­sources other species need to sur­vive. If we don’t edge back down be­low the car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of planet earth, there will be no con­ser­va­tion.

BJ: What about the gar­den cen­ters, the land­scape ar­chi­tects, plan­ners/de­sign­ers — where do they fit into the pic­ture with this some­what new con­cept of us­ing na­tive plants be­cause of their spe­cific im­pact on wildlife?

DT: The hor­ti­cul­tural in­dus­try can play a crit­i­cal role in lead­ing this tran­si­tion. A nurs­ery­man once told me I was try­ing to put him out of busi­ness. The op­po­site is true. There 129 mil­lion homes in the U.S. If ev­ery­one re-land­scaped, it would not put nurs­ery­men out of busi­ness. It would be the biggest boon the in­dus­try has ever ex­pe­ri­enced. All they need to do help ed­u­cate the pub­lic about the plants we need in our land­scapes.

BJ: What ba­sic sug­ges­tions do you have for us here in ru­ral Rap­pa­han­nock County to pro­mote na­tive plants, pro­tect our wildlife, and spread the word to a much wider and di­verse au­di­ence?

DT: Think of your prop­erty, your lit­tle piece of the world, as be­ing part of your lo­cal ecosys­tem. The way you land­scape your prop­erty — the plant choices you make and the amount of lawn you main­tain — will de­ter­mine whether your prop­erty is en­hanc­ing your lo­cal ecosys­tem or de­stroy­ing it. As Roy Den­nis says “Land own­er­ship is more than a priv­i­lege, it’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Dr. Doug Tal­lamy

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