Plant Life Balance

Why variety really is the spice of life

This Biodiversity Month we take a good look at what biodiversity is, why it’s so important, and what you and your humble home garden can do to help nature fight the good fight.

Coinciding with the start of spring, September in Australia is also Biodiversity Month – the month each year where we celebrate, learn about, and look for ways to protect and improve our incredible Australian ecosystems.

So, what actually is ‘biodiversity’? In a nutshell – biodiversity is the variety of life that makes up the non-human, non-built world. It consists of all the different plants, animals and micro-organisms that exist on earth, and ecosystems of which they form and are a part of.

 

Australia is a pretty unique place when it comes to biodiversity.

We are home to a staggering 600,000-700,000 different species, the majority of which are found nowhere else in the world.

It’s estimated that 84% of our plants, 83% of our mammals and 45% of our birds are only found here in Australia!

This diversity is so important, we have national legislation about it: the Australian Government’s environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, promotes the conservation of biodiversity by providing strong protection for threatened species and ecological communities. If you’re curious to learn more about the Act and what it covers, head here.

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We’re never not obsessed with the bright desert colours of Sturt’s Desert Pea! ❤️❤️❤️❤️ This particular patch was photographed at Bon Bon Station Reserve on Antakirinja Matu-Yankunytjatjara country in South Australia by Bush Heritage Field Officer Sam Fischer @fischermansam Posted @withregram • @fischermansam Took the morning to go on a little jolly to look for Bon Bon birdlife. Found 2 South Aussie icons, including the endemic chestnut-breasted whiteface, and our floral emblem – Sturt's desert pea. There's a huge patch that @my_desert_life tipped me off to, and it won't be long before there's a carpet of flowers like this beauty!

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CHALLENGES AND CHANGES

It’s pretty clear that Australia’s unique living environment is very special, and as far as the numbers go – it would seem like our biodiversity is thriving. However, we have a bit of a problem on our hands.

See, the thing with biodiversity is – it’s not just about how many different species there are, it’s also about how they’re connected. Think about a tower of Jenga blocks: if you remove a couple, the tower will probably still be standing. However, if you start to take out too many blocks, or remove them from particular locations, you risk the whole tower tumbling down.

According to the Australian Government’s database of threatened species, there’s currently more than 2,300 species and ecological communities that are either known to be threatened, or at risk of extinction. Eep!

What’s going on to cause this decline? Much of it comes down to changes and challenges in the ecosystem such as climate change, habitat loss, a growing urban population, pollution, changes in fire regimes and waterway systems – all of which sound pretty daunting issues when it comes to taking individual action.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Protecting Australia’s special biodiversity is definitely possible, and is a collective effort between passionate individuals, communities, organisations and government. There’s plenty that you – as a single person, or family – can do in your own home and garden to protect and improve local ecosystems.

Ok, I’m onboard! How can I boost biodiversity in my backyard?

There’s no better way to get up and close with your local ecosystems than getting stuck into your outdoor garden, and protecting and improving the biodiversity in those systems can be as simple as putting in place some careful garden planning and management practices.

Plus, as Plant Life Balance friend and horticulturalist, Narelle Happ points out, if you look out for the biodiversity of your garden, the biodiversity will look after you! Having a variety of pollinators calling your garden home will ensure your plants have the best possible chance to thrive, and are fruiting and flowering at their absolute best.

Here’s just a couple of ways you can use your outdoor garden to maintain connectivity between species, provide habitat for native fauna and keep valuable ecosystems healthy and resilient.

Plant native species

According to Narelle, the benefits of including native species in your garden design are endless. Not only do native plant species provide important habitats and nourishment for local fauna, native plants are typically easier to maintain than other plants as they are suited to Australia’s unique soils and climates – needing less water and being less prone to attack from pests and disease.

Some of our backyard favourites include dwarf Banksia, Australian paper daisies, the one-sided bottlebrush – and for those keen to also eat the fruits of their labour, you can’t go past native edibles such as the fast-growing and hardy Warrigal greens. For more ideas for yummy Aussie native plants you can grow right in your backyard, check out Narelle’s top five picks here.

Support your local little creatures

Small but mighty, bees and other insects play a critical role in maintaining ecosystems, and in particular – our food supplies. So anything you can do to attract and nourish your local pollinators is going to benefit your local environment! As an added bonus, having a variety of pollinators and pest-controlling predators (like ladybugs, which eat aphids) in your patch will see your plants thrive as they keep away the nasty bugs that can damage or destroy your plants.

While the birds and bees help out with pollinating your plants above the ground, don’t forget the worms and bugs which keep the soil rich and healthy underground.

Narelle’s top tip for supporting the smaller residents of your garden is to use a diversity of plant types:

Think of a range of plant species for bees, birds and insects – but also include habitat such as logs and rocks for lizards and small animals, including working on your soil for underground health and our precious worms.”

Great pollinator-attracting plants include tea tree, herbs such as dill, coriander, spearmint, parsley and fennel, as well as big flowering plants such as lavender or grevilleas.

Weed out invasive species

Lastly, keep out the weeds! Invasive species pose a significant threat to ecosystems around the country as they damage natural landscapes, crowd out native plants, invade out waterways and reduce the productivity of our bushland, forests and agricultural activities. You can help control the spread of weeds in your own outdoor space by:

  • Keeping an eye out for, and removing weed species from your garden as they appear. Weeds Australia has a heap of resources online to help you identify weeds, but if you’re unsure or want to double-check with an expert – your local nursery or garden centre will also be able to help you ID pest species.
  • Checking if a plant is considered a weed in your region before planting it in your backyard, and if it is – swapping it out for a non-invasive species. Check out the online directory Grow Me Instead, a super-handy guide which provides a state-by-state breakdown of invasive species and suitable replacements.
  • Joining a local bushcare group to hunt out and remove weeds in your local community – get in touch with your local council to find out what groups are active in your area.

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.::. Pollinating my Finger Limes .::. As our weather is warming, our native bees are emerging more frequently! It has been a few months since I have seen one of these iridescent girls, probably since May. This is a female metallic carpenter bee • Xylocopa (Lestis) aerata • pollinating another season of my backyard Australian finger limes (Citrus australasica) She really could either be either one of our 2 metallic carpenter bee species found here on the East coast, luckily both X.bombylans or X.aerata naturally occur here in the Sydney region! In serving to identify between the two species, I try to look for evidence of cream coloured hairs at the base of their abdomens, a distinguishing feature of X.aerata. I’m pretty stoked to have our local Xylocopa bees on my suburban property, as I usually have to go bush to find & film these native bees. .::. Today in my Northern Beaches backyard • 16th August • Xylocopa aerata .::.

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Need some help figuring out which biodiversity-boosting plants will best suit your region or outdoor space? Head to you closest Plant Life Balance accredited nursery or garden centre and have a chat with the experts about what you can plant this spring.

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