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11.7: Individual Choices

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    Many of the strategies for preserving biodiversity operate at the level of whole governments or large organizations; however, your choices as an individual also play a role in conservation. 

    Consumer Choices

    The products you purchase have differing impacts on biodiversity. Educating yourself on the origin of products and food that you purchase and choosing the sustainable options can help preserve biodiveristy. For example, arabica coffee can be grown in the shade, meaning there is no need to fully clear rainforest vegetation when growing this species (figure \(\PageIndex{a}\)). However, robusta coffee requires full sun, and cultivating it has a greater impact or rainforest biodiversity. Monterey Bay Aquarium provides a sustainable seafood guide, which identifies seafood choices that have a lower environmental impact. Choosing local products reduces the amount of fossil fuels that were burned to transport them to you, thus reducing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

    Shade-grown coffee plants are intermixed with other rainforest forest.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{a}\): Shade-grown coffee at a Columbian farm. Image by Brian Smith/American Bird Conservancy/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region (CC-BY).

    Some products have special certifications that indicate their impact on biodiversity. For example, certified organic products must be cultivated without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which pollute the surrounding areas. Additionally, they cannot contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which have both positive and negative environmental implications.  If you cannot afford to buy all organic produce, see the Environmental Working Group's lists of the Clean Fifteen™ (for which pesticide use is already limited) and Dirty Dozen™ (which are high priority to purchase organic or avoid due to high pesticide residues). The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certifies oil palm plantations that follow standards such as avoiding deforestation and using fire to clear land. Additionally, RSPO-certified business must follow guidelines to compensate their employees sufficiently. Fair Trade Certified™ goods must meet social and environmental standards that support the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals.

    Resource Conservation

    Resource conservation is individual choice that can promote biodiversity. In this case, conservation refers to limiting one's use of resources, such as water, electricity, and gasoline. Landscaping with drought-tolerant plants to limit the need for irrigation or using a low-flow shower head are examples of water conservation. Because much electricity is generated from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, conserving electricity reduces carbon emissions associated with climate change. Turning off lights and appliances when not in use and insulating one's home to reduce electricity spent on heating and cooling save money and benefit the environment. Similarly, transportation choices such as carpooling, biking, or taking public transportation can limit carbon emissions. Reusing items or not purchasing unnecessary ones also conserves the energy needed to produce and transport these goods and reduces plastic waste, which is particularly harmful to aquatic ecosystems. See chapters about Water Resources, Renewable Energy, and Solid Waste Management for more about resource conservation.

    Guide to Planting a Pollinator Garden

    Whether you have a few feet on your apartment balcony or several acres, you can promote populations of native bees, butterflies, and other pollinators by building a pollinator garden (figure \(\PageIndex{b}\)). The first step is to choose a location. While flowering plants can grow in both shady and sunny locations, consider your audience. Butterflies and other pollinators like to bask in the sun and some of their favorite wildflowers grow best in full or partial sun with some protection from the wind. The next step is to identify your soil type. Take a look at your soil - is it sandy and well-drained or more clay-like and wet? You can turn over a test patch or check out a soil mapper to learn more. Your soil type and the amount of sunlight it gets will help determine the kinds of plants you can grow.

    A diversity of flowers in a front yard surround a sign that says "pollinator habitat"
    Figure \(\PageIndex{b}\): A diversity of plant species support native pollinators in this pollinator garden. Image by Sara "Asher" Morris (CC-BY-NC).

    Next, research which varieties of milkweed and wildflowers are native to your area and do well in your soil and sunlight conditions. Native plants, those that have historically occurred in the area, are the ideal choice, because they require less maintenance and tend to be heartier. Find a nursery that specializes in native plants near you - they’ll be familiar with plants that are meant to thrive in your region. Some examples of pollinator-friendly plants native to California, include the California poppy, California lilac, milkweed, and foothill penstemon. The California Native Plant Society and UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab have additional plant suggestions. It’s essential to choose plants that have not been treated with pesticides. Choosing perennials will ensure your plants come back each year, reducing the need for maintenance.

    Remember to think about more than just the summer growing season. Pollinators need nectar early in the spring, throughout the summer and even into the fall. Choosing plants that bloom at different times will help you create a bright and colorful garden that both you and pollinators will love for months!

    Some native bee species use bare soil for nesting. While applying mulch can help control weeds, leaves some bare soil if possible. Some native pollinators also nest in tiny cavities, which may already occur naturally in or near your garden or can be provided with bee boxes.

    Make sure to weed and water your garden to keep it healthy. It may take some time, but you will eventually see butterflies and other pollinators enjoying your garden.

    Modified by Melissa Ha from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (public domain).

    Citizen Science

    Finally, citizen science provides the opportunity to be directly involved in biological conservation efforts. For some opportunities like Globe at Night, which assess light pollution, or the Lost Ladybug Project, data can be collected independently and submitted online. Others, like bird banding, are scheduled events in which experts train a group of volunteers to complete fieldwork (figure \(\PageIndex{c}\)). The federal government's citizen science database lists many such opportunities.

    Left: A group of students with clipboards. Right: Two women with trays of seedlings in sand.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{c}\): Left: Students returning from taking phenology measurements on native trees in a native forest conservation area on Hawaii Island. Phenology refers to the timing of events in an organism's life cycle. Right: Americorp members preparing ʻōhiʻa tree cuttings for rooting and propagation – with plants to be used for disease resistance screening. Left image by UFS/USDA (public domain). Right image by USFS (public domain).


    Melissa Ha (CC-BY-NC)

    This page titled 11.7: Individual Choices is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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