The President’s Distinguished Speaker Series returned this Monday, when Wabash College welcomed Dr. Douglas Tallamy to give a talk in Salter Hall with invitation from President Feller. Dr. Tallamy, the T.A. Baker Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, gave his lecture, Nature’s Best Hope, to a packed audience of students, community members and academics from as far as Chicago.
As one of the foremost entomologists in the United States, his work in environment studies and conservation have led to breakthroughs in the understanding of food webs and biodiversity within entomological ecosystems. Dr. Tallamy is known for his conservation efforts, which span from his own backyard to across the nation.
The talk began with a discussion of specialized interactions between different plants, insects and animals. The acorns of an oak tree, for example, are connected with the ants that eventually inhabit them. From here, he expanded with the reasoning of renowned biologist E.O. Wilson, saying that insects are “the little things that run the world.”
Dr. Tallamy’s main purpose with his talk was to spread the message that we need to preserve, protect and foster the environment in which these “little things” live because of the massive impact they have in everyday life. Chickadees, a species of bird, can consume between 6,000–9,000 caterpillars in their time as a nestling, and if their environment lacks that support structure, the chickadee population will fail.
“Why have we done this? We thought that our nest was so big, we could foul it forever without consequences. But we were
wrong,” Tallamy said.
Dr. Tallamy’s Homegrown National Park organization is committed to ditching the traditional grass lawns that provide little ecological benefit in favor of native landscaping with plants built to attract pollinators. Homegrown National Park’s goal is to convert half of the traditional grass lawn in the United States into native landscaping ecosystems, an impressive 20 million acres out of the estimated 40 million acres of lawn. To accomplish this, the organization tracks submissions of homeowners that transition portions of their lawn into native plants meant to foster the growth of food webs for insects, birds, and other animals. Homegrown National Park believes in the small efforts by many people that can help rebuild ecological networks for the future.
As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Dr. Tallamy is not only an eloquent speaker of his thoughts on how we can turn around environmental destruction, but he also put those thoughts into practice at his 10-acre home in Pennsylvania. Fields which previously grew hay are now filled to the brim with native plants and trees, providing a stable ecosystem for the development of pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. On his property, Dr. Tallamy has recorded over 943 species of moths and 55 species of birds; an amazing increase in his two-decade stewardship of the property.
“You don’t have to save biodiversity for a living, but you can save it where you live,” Tallamy said.
Dr. Tallamy’s message was simple, and yet powerful: We are nature’s best hope. It is up to us to carry out the work of supporting our ecological environments in our own backyards. Nature is not just the state and national parks, not just the wilderness, but it can also be within our yards. No matter how big or how small, the actions we take can positively impact the environment.