In a world that is going through dramatic changes because of global warming, it is important for us to be aware of the changes that impact our spaces, fellow species and ourselves. With awareness comes greater adaptability and a commitment to do what we can to mitigate these long-term effects.
I often look back to the natural environment of my youth and am reminded that over the past few decades, weather patterns have changed and there are many unfamiliar species that have moved, and continue to move, into the area. These include the beautiful Giant Swallowtail Butterfly and Opossums. At the same time many of the long-established species are moving northward or are becoming endangered.
Among the newcomers are an increasing number of biting insect species and ticks. Some of these invertebrates are vectors of diseases that are relatively new to this area.
In late summer, I came down with unusual flu-like symptoms and then a skin rash. I had been careful to avoid close contact with people other than immediate family and no one else within my “bubble” showed any symptoms. After being tested and assured that it wasn’t COVID-19, I booked a doctor’s appointment and went for blood tests. A couple of weeks later, it was confirmed that I had contracted Lyme disease. As I am no stranger to the now ever-present deer ticks, it was a reminder that our natural environment is changing and bringing with it the threats associated with creatures best adapted for our new reality. A couple of weeks on antibiotics cleared up the infection and all is well.
A typical reaction to this relatively new threat is to cut down all high vegetation as ticks climb up on tall perennials or shrubs and drop on unsuspecting mammals like us for the only meal they are designed to consume. Clearly, it is in our own best interest to be vigilant during the year when ticks are most active and limit our contact. But in an effort to render an area “safe” for us, we risk the well-being of the whole.
Tall grass meadows and thickets are vital habitats of birds, beneficial insects, spiders, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Rather than cutting huge swaths of natural spaces, we can mow and maintain wide pathways through these areas to allow us and other large mammals to walk more safely. It is also important to recognize the role of predators and ensure the preservation of their habitats. Ticks are preyed upon by spiders, birds, amphibians and ants. Mosquitoes are hunted down by birds, bats and dragonflies. It’s all a matter of balance.
Studies show that species are migrating northward several kilometers per decade. We might best assist in the migration of some of these species. It only makes sense to plant Carolinian tree species such as Tulip Tree, American Sycamore, Kentucky Coffeetree, Hop Tree and Redbud which have typically been found in south western Ontario and south of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Also, wildflowers and grasses whose natural range has been just south of us, could use a hand in moving to higher latitudes. They are doing well here and their introduction to this area provides a jump start on northward moving ecosystems.
Likewise, our food gardens will change with the changing climate. A longer growing season may be good for production. However, increasing heat and longer periods of drought associated with global warming are resulting in stressed crops and more robust populations of insects that feed on them. Resorting to poisons to control the insects creates larger problems. Perhaps, it’s time to start selecting varieties for drought, disease and insect resistance rather than other attributes.
It is virtually impossible to stop or reverse climate change at this point. Even if we completely stopped emitting greenhouse gases, the damage has been done and it will take a long time for Nature to establish new balances. The best we can do is try to slow down global warming and adapt to the inevitable changes associated with it.
We need to stay focused on the big picture so that our small actions can have the greatest impact. Rather than focus on just one aspect where reaction can cause considerable damage, it is important for us to work with natural processes to ensure all species have a place within the evolving natural environment. We have the power to mitigate loss of species and we have the ability to help in the migration of others whose natural rate of migration is outpaced by the rate of environmental change.
It is time to stop thinking about restoring the natural communities of the past and focus on evolving with them. It is then that we fully grasp our interconnectedness with Nature.