Backyard Biodiversity and Sustainability

UConn Heron
A heron standing at the edge of UConn’s Swan Lake

As we walk around campus we seldom think about the ecological diversity that surrounds us. Each structure, flowerbed, and field at UConn has a different biodiversity than that of neighboring communities, suburban areas, and the planet as a whole. All of these ecosystems are interdependent and affect our health and livelihood, but it is no secret that we are consuming more natural resources than the earth can sustain. As an Animal Science major with a minor in Wildlife Conservation, I have been able to explore how all species adapt to physical and environmental changes. The biggest threat to biodiversity is habitat loss due to the effects of natural and human-induced factors such as agriculture, over exploitation, and industrial pollution. After taking a course in wildlife management, I learned a lot about the different techniques used to influence the plant and animal species that progress in a given territory. I began to develop a passion for sustainable living and actions that can increase earth’s biodiversity.

The perfect place to begin creating a stronger ecosystem is your very own backyard. It is not crucial to distinguish the specific biological needs of all plants and animals, but there are essential elements for most species. The four basic needs for wildlife include food, water, shelter, and nesting. The first step is making a plan that suits each asset of the yard. Consider potential habitats and water sources for different species. Target species may include animals that are endangered or of special concern. The second step is implementing suitable horticulture practices. Get rid of invasive species and cultivate plants native to the area. Planting trees and shrubs provides sources of food and shelter for wildlife. Allowing them to grow up to different sizes will attract a plethora of species that can utilize the diverse landscape in multiple ways. Flowers provide nectar and will attract insects and many small birds. Tolerating snags will attract woodpeckers and owls.

UConn Birdhouse
A bird house located behind the Young Building at UConn built for a blue jay conservation effort

To attract certain species, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), as well as many other organizations and websites, provide great information on the habitats and biological needs specific to animals in the New England region. DEEP is a great resource to obtain information pertaining to wildlife in Connecticut and can help ensure proper management techniques. They also provide information on birdhouse designs for different species and bats. Methods to increase biodiversity that do not require extensive research include setting up a birdbath and changing the water often, cleaning up any garbage to eliminate unwanted pests, and using natural fertilizers. Enhancing the landscape and terrace structure can completely transform the biodiversity in one’s backyard and contribute to wild conservation.

To further increase the earth’s biodiversity as a whole, we need to think about the entire ecosystem. The bionetwork relies on the sustainability of our plant and animal resources, and it is important to take our individual carbon footprints into consideration. Many people do not realize that everything we do impacts the environment and the diversity of our ecosystem. What we purchase, consume, utilize, and dispose influence our individual ecological footprint. Simple changes can be made to live a more sustainable lifestyle that can reduce negative environmental impacts to provide a flourishing habitat and climate for our beloved wildlife.

Kali and her dog
Placing apples around my backyard to attract wildlife (and the occasional golden retriever)

Steps to live more sustainably include thinking twice about new purchases. One should opt for used clothing and look for items made from biodegradable materials. Reduce the use of plastic with reusable bags and filtered water instead of bottled water. Stay away from products that endanger wildlife habitats or that directly test on animals. When purchasing appliances look for energy star labels and look for eco-friendly stickers, recycle symbols, and environmentally conscious tags on the labels of other products. You should also consider reducing your consumption of animal products. Eating meat, dairy, and eggs, impacts the environment through use of harmful agriculture practices that emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and pollution in our oceans. This has contributed to climate change and the result of negative feeding trends and contamination in marine mammal species as well. It is easy to start eliminating animal byproducts. Many brands often have vegan alternatives. Some of my favorite product alternatives include Amy’s Vegan Margarita Pizza and Ben & Jerry’s dairy-free ice cream for dessert. Look for vegan and vegetarian symbols on labels. Remember, there is a vegan alternative for everything!

Advocate for policies that benefit the environment. Vote for candidates that seek to reduce the use of harmful chemicals and replenish natural resources. Surround yourself with people who inspire others to respect the natural world. We are responsible for the impact we have on the environment. Small changes to your backyard or the area that surrounds you will go a long way in creating and maintaining a unique biodiversity. One small ecosystem influences neighboring biota and contributes to Earth’s ecosystem as a whole. Individuals who take small steps to live a sustainable lifestyle only benefit the environment, climate, and animals that inhabit this Earth. Know that we have the power to influence the biodiversity around us and encourage a lovely habitat of flora and fauna around the world.