How to build an ecosystem at home
An ecosystem is a system made up of all the living organisms in a particular space and the ways they interact with their environment. Ecosystems are immensely complex pockets of nature, but if you have a garden of sorts you can make your own ecosystem and use it to your advantage quite easily! Here's how you can build an ecosystem at home. As always, happy reading! For a short infographic on how to do this, read to the end of this post.
If you want to manipulate your own ecosystem you need to understand how ecosystems work at a basic level. This means understanding the food web. Energy comes from the sun and is absorbed by plants. The plants then convert that energy into organic matter through photosynthesis. This makes plants the primary producers in any ecosystem.
Energy then flows from organism to organism, taking life from one and giving to another - this connection is what ecosystems are founded on.
2. Pick your plants
Every aspect of an ecosystem is related to every other aspect. Because of this, when you pick the plants for your ecosystem, you need to think about what you're trying to achieve. Are you wanting to attract bees? Birds?
This step will involve some research. Once you know what you want your ecosystem to do, research how to achieve that - the internet's your oyster.
If you want to attract bees, opt for herbs like basil, rosemary, chives, and thyme, or flowers like lavender, purple cone flowers, sunflowers and hibiscus.
If birds are more your target audience, you'll need trees. Other than that, opt for bottle brushes to bring sunbirds, or set up a bird feeder to attract fruit-eaters or seed-eaters (depending on what you put on your bird feeder).
Be sure to have a bird bath if you want to bring birds into your garden - not only is it used for splashing around, but it's valuable for hot days when birds get dehydrated. Make sure you change the water regularly if you don't want mosquitos!
3. Manage your consumers
Just as you can curate what you want in your ecosystem, you can get rid of what you don't want. For instance, if you have a rodent problem, rather than putting poison into the ecosystem which will only harm everything, aim to attract owls.
Owls, contrary to their evil reputation, are wonderful to have around. They get rid of rats and mice which may be scrabbling around your home and garden, causing damage.
You can attract owls by putting up an owl box and hoping for the best, or, if you're in Johannesburg, you can contact the Owl Rescue Centre. They'll set up humane traps for the pesky rodents and collect them to feed their owls.
4. Sit back and enjoy it
You've got a food web now! Well done! Now just watch your ecosystem unfold.
Ecosystems also involve loads of other aspects that will appear naturally now, like competition and parasitism. See how the doves, mossies and weavers will compete for seeds, or how the mosquitos from your neglected birdbath swarm about, harassing everything.
Whether you use your garden as an educational tool for your children, or simply use ecology to sculpt out the perfect sliver of paradise you want from your garden, I hope it brings you endless joy and a massive respect for nature.