Last month, I wrote about the intersections of the United States’ problems with ongoing drought, the likely future effects of global warming, and the institutional lack of biodiversity in crop production. Now well into August, drought is still plaguing large portions of the country, which is particularly worrying since a change in the weather is pretty much the only needed change that we can hope will occur overnight.
A recent study led by Kansas State University now adds context to these same shared challenges by focusing on the effects on drought of biodiversity in grasslands, instead of in crop selections. The study tested a wide range of grasses on their resistance to drought by depriving them of water until each one died out. The idea motivating this project is that if ranchers and landowners maintain a diverse grassland, the more drought-resistant species will be able to take up the essential functions of respiring carbon dioxide and providing food for grazing animals. Excessive reliance on small numbers of species could spell doom for the entire ecosystem.
There is plenty of available biodiversity when it comes to grassland. The world possesses over 11,000 different species. Among them, although it certainly stands out above all the others, is bamboo. And there are in fact some species of bamboo that are tolerant of drought. Some are able to survive on as little as 350 millimeters of annual precipitation, or less than fourteen inches. While those certainly aren’t bone dry conditions, it is roughly half the average annual precipitation for the state of Iowa, so the right kinds of bamboo could survive in moderate to severe drought conditions for certain areas.
As I said in the previous article, bamboo is an ideal safeguard against the loss of carbon respiration that happens when there are mass die-offs, as with the current corn crop. In light of the study regarding grassland biodiversity, I would add that they are also ideal supplements for the smaller and less versatile grasses that might be threatened by drought across America. It’s not just that they might survive drought where others would not, it’s that if they do so, a relatively small amount of bamboo can make up for oxygen that large tracts of dying grass fail to produce. And in absence of drought, there is that much more oxygen purifying the air – more than would be produced even by an equivalent number of trees.
But the threats that come of a lack of biodiversity don’t end with crop production or large swaths of open land. If just small amounts of bamboo interspersed with American grassland can do some good for the environment, then the same can be said of the collective effect of small bamboo cultivations on the private property of environmentally-minded individuals. After all, there is an instance of biodiversity staring most Americans in the face every time they set foot outside their homes.
Where I live, all my neighbors’ lawns have been as brown as finished wood and as brittle as straw. The suburban ideal is a lawn of uniform color and single species, but the reality when water is in short supply is uniform death of those prized displays of a lack of domestic originality.
Admittedly, anything other than a monochromatic, evenly cut front lawn may be unsightly or in violation of local codes, but if you have significant space in a backyard or garden, planting just one controlled row of bamboo can contribute to a nationwide effort to cleanse the atmosphere and curtail global warming one household at a time. Additionally, it makes a great privacy fence or a lovely decorative crop, and it certainly infuses American property with something that is too often lacking: biodiversity.
Even if you can’t grow bamboo on your own, you can still do your part to contribute to American biodiversity by showing support for it as a commercial crop with the purchase of products made with bamboo in place of traditional wood or plastics, or of bamboo timber for home projects, or bamboo clothing, towels, and bedding. Or you can refer to our bamboo flavors section for some great ideas for meals to make with bamboo shoots.
America needs biodiversity. The growth of new plant life can be commercial, private, or just part of the open landscape. Preferably, it will be all three, and toward that end, everyone has a role to play in making the world climate more secure by making America more ecologically diverse.