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EcoWatch is a community of experts publishing quality, science-based content on environmental issues, causes, and solutions for a healthier planet and life.
Move or Change: How Plants and Animals Are Trying to Survive a Warming World

Thor Hanson's new book explains the biology behind climate change and why some species may be better able to survive a quickly changing planet.

Climate
Researchers have observed Kodiak bears changing their diet in response to climate change. Caroline Cheung / USFWS / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Tara Lohan

When it comes to climate change, nature hasn't had the luxury of waiting for foot-dragging politicians or stonewalling corporations or science deniers. Countless species are already on the move.

"Just as the planet is changing faster than anyone expected, so too are the plants and animals that call it home," writes biologist Thor Hanson in a new book that explores the field of climate change biology.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A recycling bin on a California beach. smodj / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Earlier this month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed five sustainability bills into law. These are aimed at supporting a circular economy within the state and reducing plastic waste, reported Upstream.

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Best Period Underwear of 2022: 6 Sustainable Options

Switching to period panties doesn't have to be messy.

Reviews
Yulia Lisitsa / Getty Images

When your time of the month comes unexpectedly and you have to rush to the store, tampons, pads and panty liners are the majority of what you traditionally find when looking in the menstrual hygiene aisle. Recently, period underwear has risen in popularity to prevent the unnecessary waste that comes from using these products.

Period panties are a newer form of menstrual care that can both replace the need for disposable hygiene products and be a solution for preventing messy leaks. They're an ecologically smart alternative to single-use period products and a great long-term investment for those who want a more comfortable and easier menstrual solution.

Every person and menstrual cycle is unique. In this article, we'll explain the benefits of period underwear and help you find what type of underwear is perfect for you.

Read More Show Less
Nighttime in Primrose Hill park, London, England. stockinasia / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Scientists have grown increasingly alarmed about the decline in insect populations worldwide. While some causes — like pesticide use, habitat loss and the climate crisis — are clear, other potential factors, like artificial light at night (ALAN), are more nebulous.

Read More Show Less
Trending
schnuddel / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Jenna McGuire

Commonly used herbicides across the U.S. contain highly toxic undisclosed "inert" ingredients that are lethal to bumblebees, according to a new study published Friday in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Read More Show Less
Protester shows dead bees that died by pesticides during a protest prior to the shareholders meeting of German chemicals and pharmaceuticals conglomerate Bayer AG on April 26, 2019 in Bonn, Germany. Maja Hitij / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Despite lower applied amounts of pesticides in U.S. agriculture, their toxicity to non-target species including honeybees more than doubled in a decade, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
A rusty patched bumble bee is seen during a bee survey near the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Jill Utrup / USFWS / CC by 2.0

By Daniel Raichel

While many know Chicago as the "Second City," the old stomping grounds of Michael Jordan or Al Capone, or perhaps even still as "Hog Butcher to the World," I doubt many think of it as a home for endangered wildlife.

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Wildflowers attract pollinators, benefiting fruits and vegetables. Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

By Brian Lovett

As winter phases into spring across the U.S., gardeners are laying in supplies and making plans. Meanwhile, as the weather warms, common garden insects such as bees, beetles and butterflies will emerge from underground burrows or nests within or on plants.

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Trending
A murder hornet is shown by a pest biologist from the Washington State Department of Agriculture on July 29, 2020 in Bellingham, Washington. Karen Ducey / Getty Images

The so-called murder hornet, known for its "excruciating" sting and ability to wipe out an entire bee-colony in just a few hours, is coming out of hibernation and scientists need help in eradicating them, VICE reported.

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Cathy Chapman uses various types of groundcover and native plant species for the backyard of her South Portland home instead of having just a grass lawn. Photographed on June 6, 2018. Gregory Rec / Portland Press Herald / Getty Images

Americans take great pride in their lawns. A centuries-old practice adopted from Great Britain and Northern France, lawns have become a status symbol; a standard fixture of American communities.

In the United States, more than 40 million acres of land are covered in grass, making it the single largest irrigated crop in the country, requiring more labor, fuel, toxins, and equipment than industrial farming. These vast areas of monoculture (the practice of planting only a single crop) do ultimately have devastating consequences for ecosystem health.

Constituting 2% of the continental US, turf grass has a substantial environmental impact, especially in regards to lawn care: 3 trillion gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas (for mowing), and 70 million pounds of pesticides are used for lawn maintenance every year; fertilizer – containing large concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous – runs off of lawns, into storm drains, and eventually flows to waterways, causing algal blooms and contaminating drinking water; herbicides and pesticides kill unwanted – yet necessary – plants and insects, causing harm to humans and wildlife alike.

Moreover, the turf grass used for most lawns in the United States isn't native to North America and doesn't support the rich, diverse life needed for a healthy ecosystem. Blanketing an area with exclusively non-native grass eliminates the habitats of native plants and insects, decimating the biodiversity of the area and creating far-reaching consequences for food chains.

While boasting a bright green, perfectly mowed, immaculate lawn has become the norm, turning your yard into a native ecological refuge – sometimes called "naturescaping" – with these eco-friendly alternatives can do wonders for the biodiversity and overall health of your backyard ecosystem.

1. Native Plants and Flowers

Lake Lou / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The ryegrass and Kentucky Bluegrass that make up most American lawns aren't native to the US; between 5,000 and 385,000 acres of native ecosystems are displaced by lawns every day, crowding out regional flowers, plants, and grasses across the country. Without these native plants, monoculture lawns are essentially wastelands for birds and pollinators – like bees, whose populations have been declining rapidly around the world – eliminating the flowers they feed on and locations for nesting.

Choosing to instead foster a yard of native flowers and plants creates a ripple affect in regional food chains: plants provide food for the bugs and bees that depend on it, which in turn provide food for mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, restoring the biodiversity that has been lost. Creating a deliberate landscaping plan to replace grass with low-maintenance plants will attract wildlife and bring some beauty to your backyard.

In urban areas, clover, dandelion, and other lawn "weeds" have been identified as some of the most important food sources for bees, and flowers like columbine, monarda, asters, and holly provide a friendly habitat for birds. Of course, native plants vary by region, so be sure to check with your state's Native Plant Society to find the right species for your eco-haven.

2. Grass Alternatives

PxHere

If you love to look out the window at your luscious patch of green, you don't have to give it up entirely.

Groundcover plants provide an alternative to turf, but eliminate the need for mowing and still deliver that traditional verdant green. Clover, creeping jenny, barberry cotoneaster, Corsican mint, and creeping herbs like thyme and oregano require very little maintenance; clover especially needs little attention once it's established, suppresses weeds, and has a deep root system that aerates the soil.

Flowering perennial groundcover species – like sweet woodruff, liriope, and horned violets – bring a dash of color to your yard and often do well in shaded areas, as do many kinds of moss. Species of native ornamental grass thrive in different ranges of light, moisture, and soil, giving you plenty of options for your space.

Growing a natural lawn also eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, improves soil quality, and prevents erosion – all while creating a native habitat for the birds and the bees.

3. Befriend the Bugs

Pexels

The prevailing rhetoric of traditional yard maintenance is to eliminate as many humming, buzzing, and crawling things as possible, which drives away the beneficial bugs that foster healthy, thriving ecosystems such as ladybugs, spiders, and ground beetles. While caterpillars and Japanese beetles might not be a welcome sight, not all bugs are a bad sign!

During their lifetime, ladybugs may eat as many as 5,000 aphids – a common backyard enemy. Ground beetles too feed on less-desirable bugs like caterpillars, slugs, weevils, and nematodes. To encourage such insects to make a home in your yard, you can purchase many of them online or at garden stores to jumpstart the process. But, once you begin to populate your yard with native plants and bid the turf adieu, the insects should start crawling, flying, and buzzing back.

Learn what beneficial bugs live in your area so you can identify the signs of a healthy, bio-diverse lawn.

4. Ditch the Fertilizer …

Pexels

While typical fertilizers ramp up the productivity of farms and might keep our backyards emerald green, they also emit harmful greenhouse gases – accounting for 1.5% of global emissions – and fertilized lawns are no exception.

According to Dr. Chuanhui Gu of Appalachian State University, a standard lawn emits up to 6 times more CO2 than what can be absorbed during photosynthesis through mowing, irrigating, and fertilizing, including the production and transportation of the fertilizer.

Instead of synthetic fertilizers, try adding organic nutrients to your eco-friendly lawn by spreading compost. "Topdressing" your yard with compost supplies nutrients and keeps the soil healthy without depleting it, allowing you to maintain a healthy ecosystem for the diverse plant and animal life thriving in your eco-oasis.

5. … and the Pesticides

Henner Zeller / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientists have directly linked pesticides to the demise of frog, bat, and bee populations, throwing delicately balanced ecosystems and food chains into disorder. Ninety percent of flowering plants depend on bees and other pollinators to survive – species that have seen alarming decreases in population across the globe (also referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder).

Luckily, saving the bees can start in your own backyard: lawn-owners can make a tangible difference by cutting pesticides from their lawn-care regimen. Allowing native plants and weeds to grow freely and bugs to crawl amongst them will save the lives of your local bees, providing them a sanctuary to live, eat, and thrive in.

6. No-Mow Zones

PxHere

Mile-for-mile, gas-powered lawn mowers produce about 11 times more pollution than a new car, estimates the EPA – so, running a single gas-powered mower for an hour is nearly equivalent in emissions to a 100-mile car trip.

Mowing lawns is also extremely time-consuming, accounting for more than three million collective hours each year for Americans, who, on average, mow their lawns 22 times per year. Think of the time saved by going no-mow!

The No-Mow Movement encourages lawn-owners to leave native grasses to their own devices, growing tall and wild to eliminate the environmental cost of watering and mowing, and allowing a more natural landscape to take over unimpeded. If you've decided on an alternative to grass that requires no mowing – like clover or moss – you're already there.

Do keep an eye out for invasive weeds in your no-mow lawn that might crowd out native plants and grasses.

Before embarking on your eco-oasis adventure, you'll need to set about "killing" your lawn – that is, doing away with existing turf grass to make way for your native plants and no-mow zones.

Covering the lawn with a sheet of black plastic will trap heat and kill the turf underneath; or, adopt the no-till method of layering newspaper over a section of grass and covering it with a few inches of soil. The newspaper will decay over time and provide a fresh start for your new lawn.

While recovering global biodiversity may seem like a daunting goal, cutting down your environmental impact and saving native ecosystems can all begin in your own yard!

Looking for a cleaner lawn solution?

Sunday is a 1% for the Planet business, meaning a portion of every sale goes to helping people reconnect with nature and preserve important habitats across the country like tallgrass prairie. The team at Sunday offers you guidance and custom nutrients, to cultivate rich, living soil for a healthy lawn that's more self sustaining. If you follow this link to try Sunday for yourself, EcoWatch may earn a commission that will help support our editorial mission.

Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Along with her most recent position at Hunger Free America, she has interned with the Sierra Club in Washington, DC., Saratoga Living Magazine, and Philadelphia's NPR Member Station, WHYY.

Trending
Aviation fuel made from a type of mustard plant could reduce flying's carbon footprint by as much as 68 percent, researchers say. © Philippe LEJEANVRE / Getty Images

The aviation industry contributes 2.5 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and is responsible for 3.5 percent of human-caused climate change.

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On the eastern coast of Tanzania, communities are restoring mangrove forests to adapt to rising sea levels and storm surges. Photo: UN Environment Programme / CC BY-NC 2.0

By Tara Lohan

Scientists have provided another reminder that, when it comes to climate change, we're all in this together. A study published last month in Nature Climate Change concluded that at least 85% of the world's population has already been affected by climate change.

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Dead and decaying trees contribute more to climate change than all human transport, a new study shows. Joe Dudeck / Unsplash

Worldwide, dead and decaying wood releases roughly 10.9 gigatons of carbon every year. This is roughly 115% of annual fossil fuel emissions, a new study shows.

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EcoWatch is a community of experts publishing quality, science-based content on environmental issues, causes, and solutions for a healthier planet and life.
Move or Change: How Plants and Animals Are Trying to Survive a Warming World

Thor Hanson's new book explains the biology behind climate change and why some species may be better able to survive a quickly changing planet.

Climate
Researchers have observed Kodiak bears changing their diet in response to climate change. Caroline Cheung / USFWS / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Tara Lohan

When it comes to climate change, nature hasn't had the luxury of waiting for foot-dragging politicians or stonewalling corporations or science deniers. Countless species are already on the move.

"Just as the planet is changing faster than anyone expected, so too are the plants and animals that call it home," writes biologist Thor Hanson in a new book that explores the field of climate change biology.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A recycling bin on a California beach. smodj / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Earlier this month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed five sustainability bills into law. These are aimed at supporting a circular economy within the state and reducing plastic waste, reported Upstream.

Read More Show Less
Best Period Underwear of 2022: 6 Sustainable Options

Switching to period panties doesn't have to be messy.

Reviews
Yulia Lisitsa / Getty Images

When your time of the month comes unexpectedly and you have to rush to the store, tampons, pads and panty liners are the majority of what you traditionally find when looking in the menstrual hygiene aisle. Recently, period underwear has risen in popularity to prevent the unnecessary waste that comes from using these products.

Period panties are a newer form of menstrual care that can both replace the need for disposable hygiene products and be a solution for preventing messy leaks. They're an ecologically smart alternative to single-use period products and a great long-term investment for those who want a more comfortable and easier menstrual solution.

Every person and menstrual cycle is unique. In this article, we'll explain the benefits of period underwear and help you find what type of underwear is perfect for you.

Read More Show Less
Nighttime in Primrose Hill park, London, England. stockinasia / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Scientists have grown increasingly alarmed about the decline in insect populations worldwide. While some causes — like pesticide use, habitat loss and the climate crisis — are clear, other potential factors, like artificial light at night (ALAN), are more nebulous.

Read More Show Less
Trending
schnuddel / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Jenna McGuire

Commonly used herbicides across the U.S. contain highly toxic undisclosed "inert" ingredients that are lethal to bumblebees, according to a new study published Friday in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Read More Show Less
Protester shows dead bees that died by pesticides during a protest prior to the shareholders meeting of German chemicals and pharmaceuticals conglomerate Bayer AG on April 26, 2019 in Bonn, Germany. Maja Hitij / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Despite lower applied amounts of pesticides in U.S. agriculture, their toxicity to non-target species including honeybees more than doubled in a decade, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less