Doug Tallamy, professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, has published a new study in the journal Nature. Together with colleagues, he identified the most important plants needed to maintain food webs in the United States.
Why are food chains needed? These complex, closely interconnected systems of feeding relationships between animals are essential for our planet’s health. Many species depend on them, including humans.
Plants are the most important part of the food chain, and there are several reasons for this. They are known for their ability to convert carbon dioxide into breathable air. They also convert the sun’s energy into food. Animals eat plants. Some people eat plants directly; others get this energy by eating an animal that feeds on plants. And what animals are best at converting this energy? Insects
They are the ideal beings on Earth for the transfer of energy. Especially caterpillars of the species Lepidoptera, whose protein-rich bodies are ideal for birds.
But caterpillars and other insects cannot just dwell among any plants. Native plants must surround them, that is, those that have evolved with insects over millions of years. For example, caterpillars in Delaware, such as the silkworm Callosamia promethea, cannot feed on popular exotic trees such as crepe myrtle, which is often planted in the United States for yard decor.
“There are certain native plants, but there really aren’t many that do the bulk of the work,” explains study author Doug Tallamy. “If the regions do not grow plants that support caterpillars, food webs and chains are doomed.”
The Mid-Atlantic region boasts over 2000 plants; however, 38 of them were the most important. The list included such trees as local oaks, willows, birches, and bird cherry; from herbaceous plants – goldenrod, asters, and perennial sunflowers.
Due to human expansion, pesticides, and the isolation of species, insect populations around the world are rapidly declining. The number of flying insects such as moths has decreased by 78% over the past 40 years. And their death will affect all people, scientists emphasize.
“Insects pollinate 90% of flowering plants. Without insects, we would lose these plants, which would destroy the food web – concludes Tallamy. “We will lose amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and even some freshwater fish.”
In addition to their ability to transfer energy, insects are also critical for soil decomposition and the soil’s return of nutrients.
How can everyone support food webs and chains? The entomologist, in his bestselling book Nature’s Best Hope: A New Conservation Approach That Starts in Your Backyard, Homeowners Can Turn Their Yards Into Conservation Areas They need to choose the plants that grow in their region.
“We need to change the cultural norms of how our courtyards should look. Homeowners can reduce the size of their lawns. But you cannot just replace the grass with any plant; select key native plants that support insect populations. Start with the oak trees, ”concludes Tallamy.