Plant an Oak Tree for Biodiversity

By Sarah Battersby

/Jul 7 2015

If you want to plant a native tree and are wondering which species would benefit wildlife the best, plant an oak. According to wildlife expert Doug Tallamy, the author of “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plantsan oak tree offers the best overall benefit to a huge number of wildlife species. Doug is an entymologist who seeks to tell the world about the importance of biodiversity and preserving habitats for all “the little creatures that help us”. He points out that if you kill the insects, you are killing the birds who need to eat those insects.

His own property started out as a hayfield. Once the hayfield was longer being mowed, it became a Sleeping Beauty’s forest of entangled honeysuckle and bittersweet vines, invasive non-natives that he carefully removed. Then he began to restore the land to house natives that would sustain the local wildlife, all the insects, butterflies, moths and birds. It’s an arduous task, getting rid of the non-natives, and it goes on for a long time. He and his wife spent years pulling them. “The fun part is to see all the animal life that comes back to use these plants.” His whole ten acre property is managed to keep out the invasive plants and stop them from returning.

In the interview above Doug Tallamy talks about nature and biodiversity:

  • 90% of lepidoptera—moths and butterflies—have caterpillars that are host specific. Meaning they need specific plants to feed on.
  • Caterpillars are a vital component of the terrestrial food web. 96% of birds rear their young on insects and caterpillars.
  • Taking away caterpillars ends reproduction for the vast majority of our birds
  • Mammals eat insects too. 25% of the red fox’s diet is insects
  • 85% of the invasive woody plants are escapees from our own gardens, things like celastrus bittersweet vine.
  • There aren’t enough natural areas left—look at nighttime maps of North America as proof of how built-up it is—so we have to bring nature into our own yards.
  • Typical suburban spaces are 92% lawn, a monoculture that doesn’t support many animal species
  • “We are destroying ecosystem services for the status symbol of a lawn.”
  • A long lived oak tree sequesters carbon better than a short lived Bradford pear tree
  • There is no tree that is better at creating “bird food” than an oak.
  • Oak trees support 557 species of caterpillars
  • An oak planted from an acorn will be 20 feet in 13 years
  • Woody plants are more productive than herbaceous in terms of supporting life