Ripples 12/6/18

People are very good at doing things- when we put our minds to it, we are able to accomplish remarkable tasks, both good and bad.  Sometimes I think that we are better at doing than understanding.  

Recently I saw a story on the news about Christmas trees, and how we should watch out lest they be “infested” with insects that might then invade our homes.  The news release originated from a pest control company.  I certainly think that there can be positive aspects to using live Christmas trees- they store carbon as they grow, they provide habitat for wildlife, including insects during their lives, and the land on which they grow can be replanted so in that way they are renewable.  I grew up near a Christmas tree patch, which will be a subject for another time, and witnessed many species of wildlife living there.  Although being a Manitowoc native, I have to admit a little soft spot for the shiny aluminum variety.

That insects are found in trees is not a surprise.  Insects are supposed to live in trees.  There are a million species of insects in the world, and just a small portion of them give us problems. In more than 60 years of having real trees in the house at Christmas, I can’t remember an instance of an infestation that resulted.  According to some accounts, the tinsel we hang mimics the silk of a spider in the tree, in eastern European tradition- someone thought that was beautiful, although the fact that we have to hang tinsel indicates that there aren’t enough spiders to decorate adequately.  I cannot account for the presence of pickles, however, although they are fun.
Perhaps I am sensitive about this because according to an increasing body of research, insects are in trouble.  We’ve noticed first a decline in animals which feed on insects, like swifts, swallows, and bats, and now there is credible research from places which have preserve habitat, nature reserves in both the tropics and Europe, which are seeing steady declines in both the number of species of insects and their populations, even where habitat is intact.  Not know the reason for the declines is perhaps the most concerning aspect- if not habitat is it pesticide use, climate, or a combination of several factors?  At Woodland Dunes, we don’t really know what insects are present in the preserve aside from the most visible like butterflies and a few others.  We are grateful that there are a few volunteers which exceptional knowledge who are helping to document these animals.

Insects are present all around us.  They are vital to the ecology of the landscape, and are the most important way that solar energy captured by plants is distributed throughout the rest of the world by eating those plants and in turn being eaten by other animals.  They also pollinate many of those plants, and so we rely on them for our food, the beauty of flowers, and so much more.  Like so much of nature, so much is unappreciated because we are limited by our understanding.  We dearly hope that people will continue to study them so that we can better understand their place in the real world.
Photo- a young scientist studies an insect using a bug jar at Woodland Dunes 

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