Scientists are studying trees and shrubs planted in the lawns of homeowners throughout the Washington, D.C., Maryland and northern Virginia areas to assess how those choices are impacting food webs. Specifically, they’re looking at breeding birds and the food resources they need, such as insects and caterpillars. Different trees vary in how much food they provide birds, and the study involved a network of homeowners in the D.C. metropolitan area who provided their yards for the study. Over the course of the four-year study, the researchers looked at 203 yards. According to one of the scientists, the most eye-opening aspect of the research was the tremendous amount of diversity in bugs and birds in people’s backyards. In the group’s bird surveys, they documented 98 different bird species. The work focused on the Carolina chickadee, with the researchers following individual birds to see which trees they were choosing. One of the major findings of the study is that the number of caterpillar species a plant supports predicts how strongly chickadees prefer it.
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