Ecology’s lesson for us all on the importance of Diversity

June 10, 2020 9:05 PM

In my world, “diversity” often comes with a prefix. I remember learning the word early in my college days, having come to the wildlife ecology discipline not as a woke environmentalist but rather because of an obsession with ducks from a childhood spent hunting them. “Biodiversity” wasn’t exactly something we talked about in the duck blind. But in those classes, and in the field where we were taught to make careful observations, and in the lab where we crafted experiments and did complicated statistics to control for variability, I learned to see the impacts of diversity in the natural world. Communities that have it are strong and resilient. Those that don’t are fragile and prone to collapse.

It’s perhaps best observed in places where it’s obviously lacking. Forests with ground floors carpeted by invasive plants like bush honeysuckle come undone at the seams. Native plants that support the cadre of insects that feed the wildlife can’t find a place to live. Changes in food sources causes the cardinal to look less cardinal. The trees overhead send their progeny to the ground but they can’t find a place to grow. When they do, they’re eaten by the deer that don’t care for the honeysuckle and are quick to eat any alternative. In the end, the whole system changes and becomes less diverse. Less colorful. Less noisy and less alive. It’s a monoculture. And monocultures fail....

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Adam Janke Associate Professor

Adam Janke is the statewide Wildlife Extension Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Adam is a trained wildlife biologist, having received a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in wildlife conservation and ecology from three land-grant schools in the Midwest.  He is also certified ...