The Butterfly Effect in Our Backyard


In my last entry I wrote about the appalling situation in one of our most precious national parks, Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo, home of the rare mountain gorilla and many other treasured species of animals and flora.

It got me thinking of the so-called butterfly effect, the notion that a flutter of a butterfly’s wings can set off a chain reaction of events that can result in a typhoon on the other side of the planet.

What happens in Virunga ultimately impacts the entire planet, perhaps in ways we can’t imagine until it is too late.

Two articles that caught my attention recently makes me think that what’s going on in our backyards may also have global implications:

 Both articles add to the growing weight of evidence that many species we take for granted are disappearing before our eyes. In some cases, such as with bees, the decline has obvious repercussions. We need bees to pollinate our food crops. Bees and other pollinators affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, according to research published in 2006.

A couple of years ago I decided I would plant indigenous wild flowers in my yard to see if I could do something for the bees at least on our quarter-acre patch of the Earth. I did some research about what ought to be growing in our area and ordered plants over the Internet.


Two summers later our yard has been transformed. We’ve never seen so many birds on our property and hundreds of bees of various species are constantly buzzing around the wild flowers.

Most of what’s growing in our suburban garden is non-native to the area. Some of it, like English ivy and bamboo, is rampantly invasive. Most of it requires heavy watering by hand whenever we have a prolonged dry spell. The wild flower patch, on the other hand, is almost maintenance-free.

When I see what the native plants have done for the birds and bees I am motivated to do more research and install other indigenous species that might help butterflies. I have to do my homework to see what can be done for fireflies.

Perhaps what we have been doing in our Washington-area yard doesn’t amount to anything in the grand scheme of things.

But if enough of us do this perhaps we could provide urban havens for at least some of the species we need to help us maintain the planet’s web of life.

Making it possible for butterflies to flutter in our backyard may have enormous implications for the planet everywhere.


Photos in this entry by David Braun (from my backyard)

Related NatGeo News Watch entry:

Insect Pollination is a $215-billion Service to the World, Scientists Determine

National Geographic News stories:

City Gardens May Drive Bee Diversity, Study Says

Bee Decline May Spell End of Some Fruits, Vegetables

Mystery Bee Disappearances Sweeping U.S.

Buzz Kill: Wild Bees and Flowers Disappearing, Study Says

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn