Beyond ‘Beneficial Insects’ or ‘Pests’: Aiming for Diversity Instead

Camouflaged Looper/Synclora Aerata caterpillar. (Image Source: Chris Helzer, The Prairie Ecologist)

Chris Helzer writes at The Prairie Ecologist:

Pollinators are getting a lot of deserved respect and attention these days, but that’s just one of many important roles played by insects. For example, herbivores eat the leaves and stems of plants, granivores feed on seeds, and predators, parasites, and parasitoids feed on those herbivores and granivores. Each helps keep populations of other species in check, and many rely upon each other for food or have otherwise developed complementary relationships that are mutually beneficial. In years when some insect populations are down, other species can fill in for them, keeping important roles filled. The whole system relies upon a broad diversity of species and a redundancy of contributions that ensures all necessary jobs are always filled.

Helzer works with the Nature Conservancy to maintain and study huge tracts of native prairie in Nebraska, and his blog is an endless source of inspiration and knowledge for anyone interested in prairies large or small. If you follow his blog, one thing you will quickly realize is that a lot of it is devoted to bugs. This is because they are a huge part of a prairie ecosystem – and any natural area, including your yard, and even your vegetable garden.

The vast majority of insects in our yards, though, are native species with important contributions to the world around us.  If you’re fortunate enough to have a house with yard and/or garden, please consider your options carefully.  Why do you enjoy having that yard?  If the answer is that you just want it to look good for the neighbors, you’re missing out on a tremendous source of potential joy. 

Watching and admiring the intricate relationships between insects, plants, and other animals is endlessly fascinating.  In addition, you can make significant contributions to conservation in your yard, simply by aiming your efforts toward providing resources for nature.  Seeing birds at feeders or bees on flowers are only two examples of ways in which you can feel good about your yard’s impact. ..Instead of worrying about what’s eating your plants, you’ll start to notice which plants attract the most caterpillars or grasshoppers. Then, you’ll notice where the crab spiders or assassin bugs like to hang out, trying to take advantage of that abundance of prey. Birds will appear too, catching those insects to feed their families or fuel their migration flights. A complex mass of dynamic interactions will be taking place literally in your back yard – and you’ll have a front row seat.

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