Book review: Nature’s Best Hope, by Doug Tallamy

In his new book Nature’s BestHope Doug Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, challenges urban and suburban home owners to create wildlife habitat in their yards.  He discusses why we can no longer rely on the few remaining wild spaces, including nature preserves and national parks,  to sustain insects, birds, mammals and ultimately ourselves.  He envisions creating wildlife corridors, one property at a time.  The book empowers each of us to take action to save the planet in a process he calls building “homegrown national park”.

He reviews the history of the lawn and it’s cultural significance before making a strong case for replacing lawn with native plants arranged in layers.  He discusses the complex interrelationships between native plants and the insects they support, relationships that have co-evolved over millennia.

He discusses the concept of carrying capacity, the ability of a particular place to support particular species and the number of individuals of a species that can be supported indefinitely without degrading local resources.  Plants, he argues, determine the carrying capacity of an area.  Native plants as opposed to introduced species provide for rich and diverse food webs and ecosystems.

Tallamy reviews the role of invasive plants in destroying natural habitats and notes that all invasive plants have been introduced by the human quest for exotic species that originated in Asia and Europe.  He advocates for homeowners to remove invasive plants from their properties and not to buy them from nurseries.

He outlines the steps each of us can take to contribute to Homegrown National Park:

  1.  Shrink the lawn
  2. Remove Invasive Species
  3. Plant Keystone Genera:  native plants that form the backbone of local ecosystems
  4. Plant for Specialist Pollinators
  5. Network with Neighbours
  6. Build a Conservation Hardscape; cover window wells, limit outdoor lighting to motion sensor lights, install a water feature, build several small bee hotels
  7. Create Caterpillar Pupation Sites Under Your Trees; plant ground covers, place rocks, logs under trees, leave bare patches of soil and leaf duff
  8. Do Not Spray or Fertilize
  9. Educate Your Neighborhood Civic/Residents’ Association

Tallamy concludes by describing homegrown national park as “the most ambitious restoration initiative ever taken” (p. 214).  He acknowledges that we, as humans, have the knowledge, skill and ability to restore habitat and firmly believes we also have the collective wisdom to do so.

Submitted by Carolyn Schmidt