Beyond Your Backyard: Diversity and Connection

Megan Benage

Editor’s Note: Megan Benage of New Ulm is an ecologist who works to conserve and restore prairies, grasslands, and savannas with a focus on diversity, pollinators, and working collaboratively with agriculture producers to integrate conservation across the landscape. This will be a recurring feature. Hear more from Megan at the Prairie Pod.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about diversity. As an ecologist who observes and analyzes the prairie landscape, it’s the backbone of my job. Maintaining species diversity will ensure the prairie sustains us just as it has sustained native peoples and settlers through time.

But diversity also serves as the guiding principle for what makes society work. Diverse ideas, approaches, people, and values make this big wide world interesting, fun, and arguably so much better.

Why is diversity so important? Let’s say I’m baking a cake but forget the baking powder, a critical ingredient. My cake is now flat and dense. Let’s be honest, I’m still eating this cake because, for one, it’s chocolate and for two, as my grandmother said, “waste not, want not.” But how much better would that cake have been with the baking powder? Fluffy, light, melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Different species in our prairie systems are the baking powder! They are critical to making the system work. All the ingredients matter, but some species play a critical connection role and without them, the system collapses just like my cake.

Need more convincing? Bison are baking powder animals. As bison make their way through the prairie eating the delicious buffet it provides, their hide catches seeds and transports them to new locations while their hooves aerate the soil in some places and compact it in others. Wallowing displaces topsoil and encourages compaction which in turn creates pools where water is held, providing habitat for frogs, toads, salamanders, birds, invertebrates, and other wildlife.

Bison bathroom breaks fertilize the soil and their behavior actually changes the nutrient cycling of the system including the amount of available nitrogen. All of this action creates micro-sites where only certain plant species can grow, and changes the overall structure of the prairie habitat creating niches for a variety of wildlife species.

Bison are a mighty effective dose of “baking powder” and a prime example of why we need all of these pieces so our prairies and soil health systems can thrive and survive.

Over the years, there is no doubt there will be differences in soil conditions and climate like extreme drought or rainfall. The more diverse our systems are, the better chance they have at meeting challenges and change and persisting through time.

Diversity. How many times has my understanding been improved by hearing a different perspective? One I couldn’t have because of my background and life experiences? That’s what’s so great about SFA. You’re building a connection – a place to share ideas and experiences about what is an isn’t working on your farms. Lots of different views and choices that help us understand and build the whole.

The lesson is ever-present. It would serve us well to learn from the prairie to see just as diversity serves it and allows it to thrive it also allows our lives, our communities, and each other to thrive when we learn to embrace it. #Discovertheprairie #diversitymakestheworldgoround