Grassland Restoration: Why Restore?

Hyalophora cecropia moth

Cecropia moth (hyalophora cecropia). Doug Tallamy Photo

It’s all about the bugs. Think of them as fat, juicy sources of protein for birds feeding their young. Now think about how those bugs get fat and juicy: They eat plants, but insects are picky eaters. They eat only plants with which they have evolved. Outsiders are not welcome, and that includes “invasive” plants.

Virginia Creeper

Virginia creeper (Darapsa Myron). Doug Tallamy Photo

To the uninformed, the tangled and impenetrable mass of vegetation that covers much of Fishers Island might appear to be the new normal. That vegetation, however, is actually the aggressive, invasive plant population that is smothering and choking to death native trees and plants. The invaders are mostly from Asia and were innocently brought to Fishers Island decades ago—before they became invasive—for landscaping purposes.

It’s natural to feel bad about this and then move on to the next crisis. Enter the bugs. Picture these picky eaters with a buffet of greens stretching to the horizon. Lucky for them that, years ago, the buffet table was laden with foods they loved. One day, though, there was a new chef in town, who changed the majority of the menu to foods that the insects will not eat.

Stinging Rose

Stinging rose caterpillar (Parasa indetermina).
Adam Mitchell Photo

As their favorite foods diminish, the bugs slowly disappear. Why stay when there is nothing to eat? But where can they go, when their favorite foods are being overtaken by unpalatable invasives on Fishers and, in fact, across the United States? Does it matter?

Yes, it does. Remember the birds? If the insects have little to eat, then the birds won’t find the fat, juicy protein that they need to survive, which means there is less to feed the next animal up the food chain, and so on, weakening the food web that is the bedrock of a healthy ecological system.

Food web diagram.

A food web is the feeding relationship among species in an ecological community, each connected to the other for survival. Without a strong insect-plant relationship to get things started, the energy of life disappears, and the food web can collapse.

That is why we restore. FIConservancy is passionate about returning Fishers Island, as much as possible, to its native state of vegetation.

By setting an example with grassland restoration at the Parade Grounds, Elizabeth Airport, Race Point and South Beach, the Conservancy hopes to draw the interest of Island property owners who will want to learn how they can, one by one, make Fishers Island a healthy and active food source for wildlife.