Students learn about building their own sustainable microhabitat with Nature in Your Yard

Written by Bethany Sersion, CAS communications intern

Sample base map of a wildlife habitat

On April 1, Nature in Your Yard, an online event sponsored by the Western Program and the Western Center for Social Impact and Innovation, offered students a discussion on how providing habitat for wildlife in our home landscapes can help us live in balance with nature. 

The event was presented by Donna McCollum, emeriti professor from the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability, and Hays Cummins, emeriti professor of geography and individualized studies. Together, they guided students in attendance about how to landscape sustainably and what that means for supporting native species. 

“Understanding the ecosystems around us and our place within them is something that humanity can do to practice mindfulness,” said McCollum.

Many species of North American wildlife are endangered. Some of these species are vulnerable to becoming extinct in the coming years. This is due to land development, loss of habitat through habitat fragmentation, invasive species, herbicides/pesticides, climate change, pollution, and overexploitation. 

A butterfly sitting on a purple coneflower

“In the past, Ohio had an impressive variety of plants and animals,” Cummins said. “Today, there are an estimated 3,000 plant species in Ohio, and 25% of them are non-native -- including about 100 that are invasive. Invasive species are the number one cause in the loss of Ohio’s rare, native species.”

Cummins added that the four largest problems for wildlife are loss of habitat, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, and herbicide and pesticide use. Climate change is also one of the reasons that native species are being pushed out from their original habitats.

The hosts explained that planting native species can help support the surrounding environment and the wildlife that depends on that environment.

To start building a wildlife habitat, one must take note of the soil, topography, sunlight, wind, snow drift, heat radiation, and moisture. These conditions should determine what community of plants should be planted. A base map should be constructed detailing the layout. One should establish goals and incorporate plants that will attract the desired wildlife, whether it be mammals, birds, or pollinators. The use of the garden, for play or leisure, should be outlined as well.

“Establishment of the microhabitat should be done considering successional change, and it should include plants that flourish on a 1-year, 2-year, or 5-year basis,” McCollum said. “The plant community chosen should mimic habitats in the region.”

The circulation through plants from each successional change will provide fertilizer. Networking with neighbors will further pave the pathway to success in the creation of a wildlife habitat in your backyard. 

Sara Grieco, a Kinesiology major and Food Systems and Food Studies co-major who attended the lecture, offered her takeaway of what she learned. “To help the environment, I do not have to overwhelm myself by thinking big,” she said. “I can start small and comfortably right where I live. It was great to learn all of the amazing things you can plant or grow in your own space to help better nature and the ecosystem in your own yard.” 

“The amount of habitat in people’s yards adds up to more than all the habitat in our national parks,” said Cummins. “Small individual steps, yard to yard, can be taken to reduce our footprint.” 

These steps, however small, can lead to positive ecosystem impacts as more and more people participate. As Dr. Douglas W. Tallamy has said in his book describing his idea of a homegrown national park, it’s “Nature’s Best Hope” for recovery.