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Natural System Function

Pollination and biological control

Pollination and biological control

Water quality and supply

Water quality and supply

Experiencing nature

Experiencing nature

Flood control and storm water management

Flood control and storm water management

It has been said about Pennsylvania’s dense pre-pioneer forest that “a squirrel could run from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh without ever touching the ground.” The air and water were clean. Aquifers were full. Streams seldom flooded. Wildlife and fish were abundant. The 40-plus inches of rain falling on these rocks each year created the soils and minerals that have supported forest, plants and animals for over 10,000 years.

Ecosystems consist of all living things in an area, non-living and chemical factors and the processes that connect them, such as water cycles and energy flows. Biological diversity is simply the variety of life on earth; it includes plants, insects, animals, bacteria, fungi and so on. With native species present, ecosystems can regenerate themselves.


Nature’s systems go beyond just helping birds and wildlife. Native plants help in photosynthesis, pest control, pollination, erosion control, soil formation, water purification and storage and beauty. It is this native biological diversity of plants, insects, bacteria and animals that generates oxygen and cleans water; that creates topsoil out of rock and buffers extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods; and that recycles nutrients, carbon, chemicals and the mountains of garbage we create every day. It even maintains the base flow, width and water temperature in our streams. And now, with human-induced climate change threatening the planet, it is biodiversity that will help to suck that carbon out of the air and sequester it in living plants. Reductions in diversity reduce the system’s ability to produce oxygen, remove carbon dioxide and absorb nutrients.

Designing With Natives is sort of a back yard back to the future. Our neighborhoods and community landscapes can enhance nature’s cycles to redevelop our natural system services.

By Designing With Natives in our own backyards, schools, parks and municipal and business landscapes, we can use these small pieces of the environment to reveal our personal passion and commitment to a more ecologically-sound world. By linking adjacent properties through a broader community plan, we can yield even greater conservation outcomes.

Designing With Natives process measures habitat and bird diversity, water runoff and recharge, carbon dioxide emissions, nutrient loading, and pesticide loading. Balancing natural cycles is often referred to as cycle neutrality. It expresses how much we use versus how much we put back. Neutrality means we put back as much as we use. Only then does our footprint become zero. Best practice for organizations and individuals seeking ecological neutral status entails reducing or avoiding negative impacts first so that only unavoidable impacts are offset.

The measure for each cycle is different; however, all cycles are interconnected in some way. The website will help you determine how many trees, shrubs and native perennials beds you need to plant or other activities you should do to become neutral in these areas. Knowing this will help you decide what needs to be part of your backyard design.

Humans impact natural cycles in different ways. The ecological footprint is a measure of human demand or impact on the ecosystems. It compares human demand with the ecosystem’s ability to regenerate. It represents the amount of biologically -productive land and water area needed to regenerate the resources we consume and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste.

Five good measures of stewardship refer to how we manage our :

Habitat or bird diversity is a cycle of plant succession that drives natural cycles. Loss of biological diversity is a clear sign that our own life-support systems are failing. Pennsylvania's natural communities perform vital ecological functions, such as photosynthesis, climate regulation, nutrient cycling, erosion control, soil formation, pest control, pollination and water purification and storage. Through these natural processes, Pennsylvania's wild species contribute to the maintenance of ecosystems that support human life.

Carbon neutral or having a net-zero carbon footprint refers to achieving zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset by buying enough trees to make up the difference.

Water neutral or having a net-zero water footprint, refers to achieving a balanced water budget in which your use of water in the home and yard, including rainwater on your property, is equal to the infiltration of water into the ground or offset by buying enough trees to make up the difference. This implies zero runoff as well as reduced use.

Nutrient neutral or having a zero-nutrient footprint refers to achieving no excess in nitrogen in your lawn to wash into streams or planting riparian buffers or rain gardens to assimilate the nutrients.

Pesticide neutral, or having a net-zero pesticide footprint, is abstention from the use of synthetic herbicides or pesticides altogether.