Biodiversity tells us the number and variety of different native species found within an ecosystem. This is important information for everyone. When the environment has a large diversity of native species compared to similar environments that are dominated by a few non-native and often weedy species, it is more stable ecologically and provides many essential services to communities. These ecosystem services are not easily seen, but they include many valuable benefits such as water filtration, maintenance of soil structure and health, habitat for birds and pollinating insects, alternative food sources to preserve beneficial insect predators and habitats for rare and endangered species.
A large scale research project led by Dr. Paul Zedler out of the Nelson Institute and Arboretum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed a direct agricultural and societal benefit to enhancing biodiversity on field edges and in natural landscapes between fields in central Wisconsin. Research conducted between 2006 and 2010 showed that restored and properly-managed bio-diverse landscapes on field edges of privately-owned vegetables growers’ lands supported significantly more species of birds, insects and plants than abandoned or unmanaged areas. Since the cultivated fields generally have little diversity, the biodiversity contained in non-crop lands is an important contribution to regional services. Dr. Zedler explains “if we take this approach and expand it to other farms and privately-owned lands and look at it on a larger landscape scale, we can greatly enhance our species diversity in Wisconsin, which would have multiple benefits, including improved game habitat and reduced pest pressure on cultivated crops.” In restored landscapes that are managed to enhance biodiversity, rare and endangered species, such as the Karner blue butterfly and the red-headed woodpecker, have been shown to return in larger numbers.
The control of invasive species is another concern for biodiversity. Invasive plant species (often also classified as noxious weeds) include spotted knapweed, reed canary grass, buckthorn, purple loosestrife, garlic mustard and non-native honeysuckle. These non-native plants are often more aggressive and can quickly displace or replace native species. Over 40% of the species on the Federal Threatened or Endangered lists are at risk primarily because of invasive species. Control is necessary, and growers want to be part of the solution. Growers of potatoes and vegetables in the Central Sands region have been actively working with conservation experts to control invasive plant species on their privately-owned lands as part of a “good neighbor policy.” This foresight costs more in the short term, but by controlling invasive species in the system while enhancing biodiversity and increasing beneficial species in their landscapes, they benefit not only their own farms but also the communities they live in for the long term.