Reconciling the needs of humans and animals

nest box

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We’ve talked a lot on this program about the importance of biodiversity. Diverse populations of birds, animals, and insects provide important services to people, including pollination, pest control, and nutrient cycling.

A traditional approach to promoting biodiversity has been preserving wild lands. But the reality is that humans are using more and more of the Earth’s landscape, and it is going to be impossible to reclaim the areas that we occupy. A new approach is called Reconciliation Ecology. It is a way of creating new habitat in places where humans live and work.

A great example involves cavity-nesting birds. At least 85 species of North American birds build their nests in holes in trees—cavities that the birds create themselves or that develop in dead or dying trees. Humans tend not to like dead trees on their property, so often they are cleared away, removing bird habitat.

As these birds’ populations declined, humans have stepped in and created nest boxes. Bluebirds, kestrels, and wood ducks are species that have adapted to use nest boxes instead of natural cavities. The species benefit from human efforts, and humans benefit from increased interactions with wild birds.

Reconciliation ecology happens when coffee is planted under shade trees and when wastewater treatment plants become habitat for birds and amphibians. It will be an increasingly important tool in urban and suburban landscapes where humans dwell but want wildlife to prosper as well.



Web links:

Alliance for Reconciliation Ecology

Photo, taken on April 15, 2010, courtesy of anonymous via Flickr.


Special thanks to the AP Environmental Science class at Middleburgh High School for suggesting this topic and for their participation in a project to build and monitor  nesting boxes for the American kestrel, a small falcon whose population is declining throughout most of the U.S.


Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.  Support for Earth Wise comes from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY, with partial support from the Field Day Foundation.


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