By Ed Beaulieu
Most people know that an ecosystem is, by definition, an ecological community that, together with its environment, functions as a unit. Fewer probably know that the word ecology comes from two Greek words: oilcos, meaning “house,” and logos, meaning “the study of.” Together, the word literally means “study of the home.”
The result is a word packed with meaning and power, both emotional and practical. Its implications reach everywhere, even into the realm of watershaping and especially when the discussion turns to ponds and watergardens. This is why we at Aquascape (St. Charles, Ill.) refer to ecosystem ponds – that is, watergardens that function together with their surrounding environments, working with Mother Nature rather than against her.
In fact, ponds are among the most important and elemental of all ecosystems on the planet. They play host to total interrelationships of all organisms in a given environment, including birds, fish, frogs, plants and a huge range of microscopic organisms. As such, ponds may be seen as natural ecosystems in self-contained environments – but they may also be seen more broadly as components in the life cycles of entire ecological regions that may stretch out for miles in all directions.
The Biggest Picture
Each of these ecological regions is made up of thousands of elements, water being the most basic among them. Each pond in that given swath of land is a piece of the puzzle: As wild habitats vanish (as a result, for example, of residential or commercial development), pieces are eliminated and the regional ecology is compromised.
This is why we see the emerging popularity of man-made ponds as having such value and significance: A backyard watergarden can add to a region’s ecological stock or, more important, restore part of the overall ecosystem and become an integral part of a much larger regional environment.
To explain this role, we suggest thinking of these ecosystems, whether as grand as a region or as small as a backyard pond, as simple triangles with water as the base leg. No matter if it’s a regional ecosystem with multiple streams and lakes or a smallish backyard watergarden, the water forms the supportive base while the two legs above – plants and animals – are dependent, either directly or indirectly, on the water.
As we talk with pond owners and roll through these concepts with them, we find two things happening: First, it helps new watergardeners develop an understanding of the plants and animals they’re getting involved with and helps them become more confident (and less fearful) as they work within the ecosystem. Second, it enables them to see that their pond-related activities are part of a much larger picture and brings a sense of pride in the fact that their watergarden actually has a much larger regional role to play. For most pond owners, this makes it easier to commit to the time required to select the right plants and establish ecosystems that attract animals and make the ecosystem triangle work.
As important, we find that it helps them approach their ponds with a streamlined philosophy: Keep it simple. With patience, the pond will mature through the years into a beautiful part of nature.
One pond in one backyard may not seem all that important, but when you have a thousand similar backyard ecosystems functioning simultaneously, that’s a huge plus for the regional environment. Frogs, toads, newts and salamanders all appreciate it, as their historic habitats vanish from view under roads and buildings. Birds get into the act as well, seeking new resources to replace the wetlands they generally need to survive.
Ponds provide safe havens for these creatures and add a welcome diversity to our stressed suburban environments. No matter who you are or where you live, that’s a delightful proposition.
Ed Beaulieu is director of contractor development and field research for Aquascape, Inc., St. Charles, Ill. For more information, visit www.aquascapeinc.com