The diversity of flora and fauna here in the River Valley is something that many of us (yours truly included) have long taken for granted. The sheer abundance of life is simply staggering.
We’ve got plants on a scale from monstrous cottonwoods to minuscule duckweed in the sloughs. We’ve got deer, black bear, three kinds of squirrels, two types of rabbits, raccoons, opossums, reptiles ranging from alligators to tiny brown skinks, salamanders in the damp shade and toads in the garden, so many kinds of fish that just those in the minnow family would boggle your mind, songbirds and birds of other feathers galore, and these are all just the animals with backbones. The number of different invertebrates — arthropods, crustaceans, mollusks, annelids, and a few species of cnidarians — are innumerable and maybe unknowable. And this wealth of wonder we enjoy is owed almost entirely to flowering plants and those little lives who help them reproduce. It seems as though it’s always been this way.
It hasn’t, of course.
Flowering plants (known in science as angiosperms) appeared only 125 million years ago, which is not that far back in geological time. Since then, blossoms of every shape and color along with an assortment of buzzing, bumbling fluttering beings that depend on the blooms have worked in concert to build foundations for nearly every terrestrial ecosystem on the planet.
On a more species-specific level, we humans are utterly dependent on the mutualistic relationship between flowering plants and pollinators. To put it quite simply, if they were to disappear we’d be next. This existential concern is why the global decline of pollinators is so very disturbing. Chalk it up to poor land practices, indiscriminate pest control, and other factors.
But all is not lost… yet.
In this issue of ABOUT, we visit with Larry Price from Project Wingspan, a plan aimed specifically at helping the iconic but struggling monarch butterfly and the rusty patched bumblebee, which was added to the federal endangered species list just a few years ago. The end goal of project wingspan is, of course, better habitat for and better numbers of monarchs and rusty patched bumblebees. But, as with so many other conservation efforts, better habitat for one or two flagship species means better habitat for every other organism in the ecosystem — including humans.
In our human world of constructed abstractions like “money” and “government” and really the entirety of civilization, it’s easy to forget that we’re still a part of nature, that we are nature. And it’s easy to miss the fact that efforts to save the flowers, the bees, and the butterflies are really efforts to save us.