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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet

Helping Nature Help Us

Helping Nature Help Us

Conservation works best when it’s focused on whole systems. We’ve got tips on what you can do.

Hello! I’m Catrin. I cover biodiversity for the Climate and Environment team here at The Times. Sometimes people forget that latter part of our name, with so much focus these days on climate change. But we cover all kinds of environmental issues. Plus, the climate and biodiversity crises are deeply linked, and scientists say they must be addressed together.

The people behind Climate Forward invited me to make a guest appearance today to offer a new take on one of my recent articles, which looked at why some states can’t protect insects.

That lack of authority is a problem for at least two reasons: First, many insect species show alarming declines. Second, the rest of terrestrial life on this planet, including humans, relies on insects. Creatures like bees, butterflies and beetles pollinate plants, enrich soil and provide a critical source of protein for other species up the food chain.

Still, when it comes to insect conservation, at least a dozen states have their hands tied, legally speaking. The article I wrote focused on that.

But it’s not just insects and other creepy-crawlies, like spiders and centipedes, that get left out. In some states, authority over plants (not to mention fungi) is murky or nonexistent, according to Mark Humpert, director of conservation initiatives at the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Why it matters

Plants make the rest of us possible. In the words of Doug Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware, they “allow us, and nearly every other species, to eat sunlight, by creating the nourishment that drives food webs on this planet.”

They let us eat sunlight!

Also, since plants and insects often have highly specialized relationships, the extinction of a certain plant species can create a cascade of other extinctions.

A bee visiting native asters in a New York garden.Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Which leads to another important idea: The approach to conservation that has brought back charismatic megafauna like elk and bald eagles doesn’t always work so well for the multitude of species closer to the bottom of the food web.

“The single species, one-at-a-time approach doesn’t make sense for insects because there’s so many of them,” Matt Forister, an insect ecologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, told me.

A shift has started, state wildlife workers said, but there’s a long way to go. And they noted that a lack of attention to insects and plants can even end up undermining efforts to protect animals higher up the food chain.

Take the greater sage grouse, an at-risk bird that lives in the sagebrush steppe of the West. After wildfires, restoration efforts involve planting lots of sagebrush, which the birds need to nest in and eat. But for the first several weeks of their lives, sagebrush chicks require high-protein insects. To attract a diversity of insects, you need a diversity of native plants. Planting sagebrush monocultures doesn’t cut it.

“We need to understand the needs of all the species that are a part of the system, that are all contributing to each other,” said Ross Winton, an invertebrate biologist at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Instead of managing for the species at the top of food chain, we need to understand the relationships between them.”

What you can do

Greater sage grouse aren’t the only bug-loving baby birds. Dr. Tallamy has estimated that about 96 percent of North American terrestrial birds rear their chicks in part or exclusively on insects. So, he and others are behind a growing movement to support ecosystems by encouraging people across the country (and beyond) to plant native flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees. It’s a way to support the things at the bottom of the food web, one yard or rooftop garden at a time.

Need a place to start? The National Wildlife Federation has worked with Dr. Tallamy on a handy tool. If you’re looking to help the bugs that help us, planting food for them is a great start.

Activists at United Nations headquarters in New York in February during negotiations on a treaty to protect ocean biodiversity.Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A landmark deal to protect oceans: Nations have agreed on language for a treaty to protect marine life in the high seas, the international waters that cover almost half the planet.

World tour: Ajay Banga, the U.S. nominee to lead the World Bank, is traveling to build support for his candidacy. He’ll focus on links between development solutions and climate.

U.S. sues Exxon: Federal officials said in a suit that the oil and gas company has failed to remedy years of racial harassment faced by Black workers.

Trees cheating death: Climate change has left much of California’s conifer forests stranded in habitats that no longer suit them, a study found. They are considered “zombie” forests.

No ice, no fun: Ice fishing season is the best time of the year for some residents of an Ohio island on Lake Erie. But this winter, the lake didn’t freeze.

Electric cars surge: Since 2020, ownership rates of electric cars have more than doubled in New York City and its suburbs.

Dealing with a climate catastrophe: A Times special report on women and leadership profiled Shabnam Baloch, who plays a key role in efforts to help Pakistanis displaced by flooding.

A bridge designed to unite two historic buildings London. Simon Menges/The Royal Academy of Arts

David Chipperfield, a British designer who focuses on environmental sustainability and social equity, has been awarded this year’s Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest distinction. He is best known for transforming historic buildings into elegant, modern spaces.

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Manuela Andreoni, Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward. Read past editions of the newsletter here.

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