While we’re sprucing up our outdoor spaces for spring, it can be easy to forget about our wild neighbors. Unfortunately, sometimes what we see as improvements to our green spaces can be pretty harmful to the biodiversity of our neighborhoods. Without biodiversity, many of the things we enjoy about spring, from the beautiful flowers to the mild weather, will cease to exist. Throughout the spring we’ll be exploring ways we can all make our outdoor spaces more biodiverse. You can check out the resources we’ve gathered so far on the Welcoming Wildlife page. To introduce the theme, we thought it would be a good idea to get on the same page about why it’s important to welcome wildlife to our outdoor spaces. In this blog, we’ll explore why we need biodiversity and what is leading to its decline.

What is biodiversity? 

Biodiversity refers to all of the different living things that exist within a given area. All the plants, animals, insects, and microorganisms that live around us contribute to biodiversity and work together to support all life in an ecosystem. Biodiversity scientist Adriana de Palma explained it pretty plainly in an interview with the World Economic Forum: “Biodiversity provides us with everything we need to live: clean air, clean water, it creates healthy fertile soil for growing crops and it pollinates crops. So if you like your coffee in the morning or an afternoon apple, we need biodiversity, to survive and to have a good quality of life.”

If you like your coffee in the morning or an afternoon apple, we need biodiversity. To survive and to have a good quality of life.

Adriana de Palma

Biodiversity Scientist, Natural History Museum of London

What is biodiversity loss?

Humans are the biggest threat to biodiversity. As more and more people move to cities, more and more natural habitats are being destroyed. Without biodiversity, the benefits that all living things get from the ecosystem cease to exist. 

Across the globe, biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates. The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2020 reported that there has been “a 68% average decline of birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and reptiles since 1970.” According to a 2019 report from the United Nations, one million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. 

In the Cincinnati area alone, there has been massive biodiversity loss since settlers began building up the city. Places where dense forest and wetland bogs once thrived, industry soon destroyed. Animals who once roamed here such as wolves, bears, and elk were driven from the area because the ecosystem could no longer support them. Species like the passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet were hunted to the point of total extinction. And while the importance of conservation has become more understood since settlers first changed up this ecosystem, we are still seeing huge amounts of biodiversity loss, though now perhaps in more subtle ways. It was easy for people to notice that the once huge flocks of passenger pigeons were dwindling, but it can be harder to notice that pollinating insect populations are declining unless you really pay attention. That’s why some call biodiversity loss the silent killer. If we don’t start making room for wildlife in our cities then someday it will be too late. 

For humans, loss of biodiversity means we will have less food to eat, less medicine to keep us healthy, and higher instances of disease. If we don’t have biodiversity, we will also lose ecosystem services that we and many other creatures rely on such as clean air, clean water, and healthy soils.

Indigenous Peoples and Biodiversity

As governments and environmental organizations are wrestling with the best ways to increase natural biodiversity, more and more are finally recognizing that input is needed from Indigenous Peoples. According to the World Bank, “while Indigenous Peoples own, occupy, or use a quarter of the world’s surface area, they safeguard 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity.” Indigenous Peoples have always been well-aware of the importance of biodiversity, living with respect for land and natural systems. It is important to recognize the history of violent colonization, forced removal, and systematic racism that has led to Indigenous communities being some of the hardest hit by the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. As governments and organizations turn to Indigenous communities for guidance, we must recognize the harm done, advocate for Indigenous Rights, and let these communities lead the way. You can find more articles about Indigenous communities leading the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss here. We encourage you to learn more about the Indigenous communities where you live. Imago wants to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Kaskaskia, Osage, Shawandasse Tula, Myaamia, Adena, and Hopewell people. 

While Indigenous Peoples own, occupy, or use a quarter of the world’s surface area, they safeguard 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity.

World Bank

How did we get here? 

There are many things that contribute to this steep decline in biodiversity, but the biggest reason is habitat loss. The world is becoming more urbanized, which means natural areas are being removed and replaced by industry, businesses, and homes.

While cities like Cincinnati do boast a number of parks and areas of greenspace, those spaces tend to be full of grass. Turfgrass, whether it’s found in a city park or a residential lawn, is a big deterrent to biodiversity. Typically, lawns are planted using a single type of grass seed and the constant mowing and pesticide use renders the space unlivable for pretty much anything other than that single type of grass. We have a deep dive on the negative effects of lawns coming soon, but if you’d like to learn more now, we recommend checking out this article. 

What now?

In their biodiversity report, the UN said, “it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.” Even the small changes we each can make in our own outdoor spaces will make a difference, and the more people who join Imago on this journey the better. 

Throughout the spring, we’ll be sharing information about the best ways each of us can bring nature home in whatever outdoor spaces we have available to us. Together, we’ll navigate everything from best planting practices to city regulations. One of the things we’ll be exploring this spring is how to turn our outdoor spaces into Certified Wildlife Habitats. There are a number of organizations who offer information and tips on how to do this, the most popular program is probably the National Wildlife Federation’s. You can find out more about Certified Wildlife Habitats on the Welcoming Wildlife webpage, along with all the additional resources we’ve gathered so far. You can also submit ideas for topics you’d like us to cover. 

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but we’re in this together. The more people working together with wildlife in mind, the healthier our ecosystems will be.