Do insects prefer native plants?

We follow Doug Tallamy’s publications closely because he is the academic scientist most often quoted by native plant advocates to support their belief that insects require native plants and that the absence of the native plants will result in the collapse of entire ecosystems:   “…our wholesale replacement of native plant communities with disparate collections of plants from other parts of the world is pushing our local animals to the brink of extinction—and the ecosystems that sustain human societies to the edge of collapse.” (1)

Main fountains of Longwood Gardens.  Creative Commons - Share Alike
Main fountains of Longwood Gardens. Creative Commons – Share Alike

Tallamy co-authored his most recent publication, The Living Landscape:  Designing for Beauty and Diversity in the Home Garden, with Rick Darke, curator of plants at Longwood Gardens for 20 years.  Longwood is a formal garden outside of Philadelphia, which seems at odds with the exclusively native gardens for which Tallamy advocates.  And so we were intrigued by this unlikely team.  Darke’s introduction to the book implies a departure from Tallamy’s usual mantra:

“Is this a book only about gardening with native plants?  No.  It’s a book about how native plants can play essential roles in gardens designed for multiple purposes, with a focus on proven functionality.  For better and worse, the native plant movement in North America has evolved in the last decade…One of the most important functionalities is durability:  the capacity to thrive over a long time without dependence on resource-consuming maintenance regimes.  Claims that natives are always better than exotics fail to take into account radically altered environmental conditions in many suburban landscapes…In most cases and most places, the design of broadly functional ecologically sound, resource-conserving residential gardens requires a carefully balanced mix of native and non-native plants.  It’s time to stop worrying about where plants come from and instead focus on how they function in today’s ecology.  After all, it’s the only one we have.”  (2)

Tallamy writes his own introduction to The Living Landscape, which suggests a softening of his hard-line insistence upon gardening exclusively with native plants:

“What is native in any given place today wasn’t native if we look back far enough in time, and it is certain that what will be native in that same place in the future will be different from what is native now.  Functional ecological relationships take a long time to evolve—often thousands of years—but they do evolve.  Humanity’s challenge is to reduce its introduction of rapid environmental changes that are currently causing extinctions to occur faster than the evolution of new species.”  (2)   

Has Tallamy’s viewpoint evolved?

When we reported on Tallamy’s previous publication in 2012, we quoted him as saying that a graduate student under his direction could not find any evidence that native plants were eaten by insects more frequently than non-native plants:

“Erin [Reed] compared the amount of damage sucking and chewing insects made on the ornamental plants at six suburban properties landscaped primarily with species native to the area and six properties landscapes traditionally.  After two years of measurements Erin found that only a tiny percentage of leaves were damaged on either set of properties at the end of the season…Erin’s most important result, however, was that there was no statistical difference in the amount of damage on either landscape type.”  (1)

May we conclude that Tallamy no longer believes that native plants are required by insects?  No, we may not.  In Living Landscape he takes a different approach to this question.  He collaborated in three studies which found more insects in native gardens than in non-native gardens:

  • Significantly more caterpillars of butterflies and moths were found in suburban gardens of predominantly native plants compared to gardens of predominantly non-native plants. This study also quantified the number of birds found in these gardens and concluded that “…the negative relationship between non-native plant abundance and bird community integrity is apparent in managed ecosystems as well, regardless of whether the non-native species are invasive.”  This seemed a leap of faith, given that the inventory of insects was done in a six-week period in August and September and the inventory of birds was done in a six-week period in June and July, rendering a cause-and-effect relationship dubious.
  • Two other studies were conducted in a constructed garden in which native and non-native plants were paired for comparisons. Some of the pairs were in the same genus.  Again, significantly more caterpillars and other plant-eating arthropods were found on native plants, although the differences were much smaller when the plants were in the same genus, which are often—but not always–chemically similar.

Reconciling apparent contradictions

So, how are we to reconcile these studies which find more insects on native plants with other studies which report otherwise?

  • Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we rely on the research of Professor Arthur Shapiro to inform us of which plants are useful to our butterflies. He tells us:  “Most California natives in cultivation are of no more butterfly interest than nonnatives, and most of the best butterfly flowers in our area are exotic.” (3) The difference between Professor Shapiro’s studies and those cited by Professor Tallamy is that Professor Shapiro has been studying butterflies in “natural areas” rather than cultivated gardens.  Most of the plants that he finds butterflies using are considered weeds, such as non-native fennel and star thistle, which we wouldn’t find in suburban gardens.  We speculate that this difference accounts for some of the difference in findings. 
  • Furthermore, the studies reported by Professor Tallamy only seem contradictory. In fact, if we look at them closely we find that one reports no difference in what caterpillars eat, but considerable difference in where they are found.  And this strange difference is consistent with the scientific literature.  A meta-analysis of hundreds of studies of insect-plant interactions published by Annual Review of Entomology reports these findings:  “Herbivore densities are lower on invasive plants than on native plants, but there is no evidence that invasive plants overall suffer from less damage inflicted by native herbivores.” (4)

Go figure!  More herbivores are found on native plants, but they don’t eat more native plants than they do non-native plants.

A parting shot

Professor Tallamy urges suburban gardeners to take insects into account when making their gardening choices and, of course, we agree.  However, he closes his pitch for gardening with natives in The Living Landscape with a story which seems superficially compelling but doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.

Eumaeus atala butterfly laying eggs on coontie.  Creative Commons - Share Alike
Eumaeus atala butterfly laying eggs on coontie. Creative Commons – Share Alike

There is a beautiful butterfly (Eumaeus atala) in Florida that was historically dependent upon a particular native plant, coontie, which is a species of cycad.  Coontie was popular with early settlers as a food flavoring and was nearly wiped out early in the 20th century, along with the atala butterfly which was dependent upon it as its host plant.  Tallamy claims that the atala made a comeback when coontie became a popular plant for suburban gardens.  This makes a powerful case for how suburban gardeners can participate in efforts to conserve our native butterfly fauna.

Coontie.  Photo by Dan Culbert, University of Florida
Coontie. Photo by Dan Culbert, University of Florida

But is it true?  Wikipedia says it’s not:  “The atala is now common locally in southeast Florida rebounding to some extent as it has begun to use ornamental cycads planted in suburban areas.”    This is an example of how chemically similar plants can be useful to native insects, whether they are native plants or introduced, non-native, ornamental plants.

Sago cycad palm
Sago cycad palm is an example of an ornamental cycad

We apologize for being repetitive, but for the record we will close with the reminder that Million Trees urges everyone to plant whatever they want in their own gardens.  In public open spaces, which belong to everyone, we ask only that land managers quit destroying trees and using pesticides for the sole purpose of attempting to eradicate non-native plants.  The audience for Professor Tallamy’s publications is private gardeners, so we don’t really have a beef with him.  We critique his rationale for his preference for native plants only because it is often cited by those who demand the eradication of non-native plants and trees in our public open spaces.

The Living Landscape is a beautiful book, which we recommend to our readers for its lovely photos of naturalistic landscapes.



  1. Doug Tallamy, “Flipping the Paradigm:  Landscapes that Welcome Wildlife,” chapter in Christopher, Thomas,The New American Landscape, Timber Press, 2011
  2. Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy, The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Diversity in the Home Garden, Timber Press, 2014
  3. Arthur Shapiro, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions, University of California Press, 2007
  4. Martijn Bezemer, et. al., “Response to Native Insect Communities to Invasive Plants,” Annual Review of Entomology, January 2014.

Are non-native plants “ecological traps” for birds?

One of the reasons why native plant advocates want the managers of our public lands to destroy non-native plants and replace them with native plants is that they believe native plants provide superior habitat for birds.  However, empirical studies do not support this belief, as we have explained in earlier posts.  Today we will examine an article recently published in an advocacy magazine, making the claim that non-native plants are “ecological traps” for birds:  “Nonnative Plants: Ecological Traps Offering alluring habitat for songbirds, exotic plants may actually decrease the animals’ long-term survival and fitness” (1)

Japanese honeysuckle.  Attribution William Rafti
Japanese honeysuckle. Attribution William Rafti

The article begins auspiciously with the good news that populations of some bird species have increased significantly in recent decades because of the spread of non-native plant species which are valuable sources of food:  “…a 2011 paper, published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, concluding that the number of fruit-eating birds such as cardinals, robins and catbirds tripled during the past three decades in parts of central Pennsylvania due to the spread of nonnative honeysuckles.”  (1)  And then the article attempts to contradict this good news by turning to the usual nativist caveats.

Generalists vs. Specialists

Nativists claim that the animal kingdom is divided into generalists and specialists.  The generalists are theoretically omnivores—they have a varied diet—and so depriving them of native plants will not prevent their survival.  Specialists, on the other hand, are dependent upon a narrow range of plant or animal species for survival.  We are expected to believe that specialists far outnumber generalists and that we doom them to extinction when one particular species of native plant or animal is unavailable to them.

Monarch butterfly caterpillar - Creative Commons - Share Alike
Monarch butterfly caterpillar – Creative Commons – Share Alike

Doug Tallamy is the purveyor of the generalist vs. specialist overstatement.  We have critiqued his assumptions in an earlier post.  In a nutshell, there are few mutually exclusive relationships in nature because they are a risky evolutionary strategy.  The plant or animal that is dependent upon one other species is significantly less likely to survive in the long term than an animal with more dietary options.  The perception that there are immutable relationships between insects and plants also underestimates the speed of adaptation and evolution, particularly of insects with large populations and short lifespans.

For example, a bird that eats insects usually eats all manner of insects as well as spiders.  They are not dependent solely upon caterpillars as Mr. Tallamy seems to believe:  “…warblers and chickadees rely on caterpillars for 90 percent of their diet during the breeding season, eating hundreds per day. ‘That’s a lot of insects,’ Tallamy says. ‘If you don’t have those insects, you don’t have the birds.’” (1)

According to Cornell Ornithology Lab–America’s most prestigious research institution for birds–warblers and chickadees have a much more varied diet than Mr. Tallamy believes.  (We chose specific species with ranges and abundant populations in Delaware where Mr. Tallamy lives.  However, the diet of all species of chickadees and warblers are similar.)

  • Black-capped Chickadee:  “In winter Black-capped Chickadees eat about half seeds, berries, and other plant matter, and half animal food (insects, spiders, suet, and sometimes fat and bits of meat from frozen carcasses). In spring, summer, and fall, insects, spiders, and other animal food make up 80-90 percent of their diet. At feeders they take mostly sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, peanut butter, and mealworms.” (2)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler:  “insects and spiders.” (2) Most insects are not caterpillars and many are not herbivores.
Black-capped Chickadee - Creative Commons - Share Alike
Black-capped Chickadee – Creative Commons – Share Alike

No evidence that insects require native plants

Mr. Tallamy is focused on caterpillars because they are herbivores, that is, they eat plants.  Just as he believes that the birds need native plants, he also believes that plant-eating insects need native plants.  However, Mr. Tallamy disproved his own theory about an immutable relationship between native plants and insects when he supervised a graduate student whose thesis concluded: 

Erin [Reed] compared the amount of damage sucking and chewing insects made on the ornamental plants at six suburban properties landscaped primarily with species native to the area and six properties landscaped traditionally.  After two years of measurements Erin found that only a tiny percentage of leaves were damaged on either set of properties at the end of the season….Erin’s most important result, however, was that there was no statistical difference in the amount of damage on either landscape type.” (3)

This empirical study, supervised by Mr. Tallamy, was unable to find evidence that there are more plant-eating insects in a native garden than in a landscaped garden of non-native cultivars.  Yet, Mr. Tallamy continues to claim that insects require native plants and birds require those insects for their survival:  “Tallamy’s research shows that birds also may be harmed indirectly because nonnative plants affect insects. He has found that the number and diversity of plant-eating insects, especially caterpillars, drops dramatically when exotic plants invade…[Tallamy said,] ‘My prediction is that birds that specialize on insect herbivores will take a bigger hit than those that eat other insects,’” (1)

The study by Mr. Tallamy’s student about the relationship between native plants and insects is not the only empirical evidence that his assumption is incorrect.  We have published several articles about local studies that have found no such relationship:

Native plant advocates have also offered “evidence” of insect populations in the local eucalyptus forest.  UCSF produced a video to promote their original plan to destroy most of the eucalypts on Mount Sutro (now on hold indefinitely).  An arborist shows us eucalyptus leaves that have been chewed by insects.  He claims that a drastically thinned forest will be healthier because it will have fewer insect predators.  So, there are insects in the eucalyptus forest when it suits native plant advocates’ purposes and there are no insects in the eucalyptus forest when it does not.  They want more insects when they are advocating on behalf of birds and they want fewer insects when they are demanding that trees be destroyed.  It’s rather confusing.

Insects ARE important to birds

We agree with Mr. Tallamy that insects are very important to birds because they are a major source of food, especially during the nesting season when their high-protein content is vital to nestlings.  Therefore, we believe that Mr. Tallamy should join us in making climate change our highest environmental priority.  Because insects are cold-blooded, they are particularly vulnerable to the extreme weather conditions associated with climate change.  They cannot adjust their body temperature as warm-blooded animals can in response to such fluctuations in temperature.  A recent study predicts devastating consequences for insect populations in coming decades:  “Our predictions are that some species [of insects] would disappear entirely in the next few decades, even when they have a fairly wide distribution that currently covers hundreds of kilometers.” (4)

We believe that a single-minded focus on native plants is misguided because in a rapidly changing climate the entire concept of “native” becomes meaningless.  Just as insects are unlikely to survive radical changes in temperature, the ranges of native plants must change if species are to survive.

Stay tuned for Part II

In our next post, we will continue our critique of the article that theorizes that non-native plants are “ecological traps.”  We will tell our readers about the published research that contradicts statements in the article about predation of cardinal nests in non-native honeysuckle.  The author of one of the studies is quoted in this article, saying something completely different than her own published study.  It’s an intriguing contradiction.


(1)    John Carey, “Nonnative Plants: Ecological Traps Offering alluring habitat for songbirds, exotic plants may actually decrease the animals’ long-term survival and fitness,” National Wildlife Federation, January 14, 2013

(2)    Cornell Ornithology Laboratory, Guide to Birds

(3)     Tallamy, Doug, “Flipping the Paradigm:  Landscapes that Welcome Wildlife,” chapter in Christopher, Thomas, The New American Landscape, Timber Press, 2011

(4)    “Extreme weather caused by climate change decides distribution of insects, study shows,”  Science Digest, February 20, 2014

Invertebrates such as insects are plentiful in the eucalyptus forest

Native plant advocates frequently claim that the eucalyptus forest is a “biological desert.”  We find no evidence to support that claim.  We are as likely to see a diverse understory in the eucalyptus forest as in oak woodland and more likely than in a redwood forest where there is considerably less light.  We have reported on several studies that found comparable diversity of wildlife in native and non-native forests.

The abundance and diversity of insects is particularly important in evaluating the health of an ecosystem because they are near the bottom of the food web.  We won’t find many birds in an ecosystem where there are few insects, for example.  We have reported on several studies that found comparable abundance and diversity of invertebrates such as insects in native and non-native landscapes.

Still, the myth persists that eucalyptus forest is devoid of life.  In this article we will address this specific statement in the assessment of the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) of Blue Gum eucalyptus:  “loss of native plant forage and migratory disruptions may have greater long-term impact on wider diversity of wildlife species, including invertebrates and microorganisms in soil.”    Cal-IPC provides no studies to support this speculative statement.  Therefore, we will tell you about a specific study that refutes the assumption of Cal-IPC:  “Similar breakdown rates and benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages in native and Eucalyptus globulus leaf litter in Californian streams” (1)

First, we will provide a few definitions for our readers who may not have encountered some of the more esoteric jargon before.  The benthic zone is the sub-surface layer of bodies of water.  Here is a brief list of some of the common names of macroinvertebrates that lay their eggs in water that were found in this study:  mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, and midges.   These insects and their larva are food for fish and birds and in turn, fish are food for other animals.

Cerritos Creek. Not one of the creeks in the study, but typical of an East Bay creek with native vegetation.
Cerritos Creek. Not one of the creeks in the study, but typical of an East Bay creek with native vegetation.

Three small streams in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the East Bay were selected for this study because they have sections of shore with eucalyptus forest and sections with native trees (oak, bay, big leaf maple, and alder).  Like many ecological studies we have read over the years, this study hypothesized that it would find reduced abundance and diversity of insect populations in the streams bordered by eucalyptus based on the assumption that eucalyptus is “lower-quality food resource for macroinvertebates than a mixture of native litter.”  As we will, see, they did not find evidence that supported their theory.  We are fortunate that their study was published, because the chances that a negative finding will be published are significantly smaller than studies with positive results.

We will briefly describe the methods used by this study because they establish the credibility of the study.  They sampled insect populations directly from the streams as well as using mesh bags of the litter of the two types of forest:  eucalyptus forest and an assemblage of native tree species.  The sampling was done in three different seasons and the litter bags were sampled after 26, 56, and 90 days.  They used two measures of diversity and two metrics related to pollution tolerance, as well as two measures of abundance of invertebrate species in litter bag samples to describe the insect population.

Here are their key findings:

  • “[Differences in y]early litter input rates in reaches bordered by Eucalyptus and by native vegetation were not statistically significant.”
  • Species diversity and pollution tolerance did not differ significantly between eucalyptus and native sites, with one exception.  There was a higher proportion of one complex of insects (Ephemeroptera, Trichoptera, Plecoptera) in the eucalyptus samples.
  • The abundance of the five most common taxa (species or genus) did not differ significantly between eucalyptus and native sites with the exception of mayflies which were on average twice as abundant in eucalyptus sites.
  • One metric of diversity (Shannon Diversity Index) found greater species diversity in eucalyptus sites compared to native sites.
  • The decay of litter in the bags of eucalyptus litter was similar to the bags of native litter, i.e., “leaf mass loss was not significantly different between eucalyptus and native leaves.”  Decay of litter is a proxy for the amount of litter consumed by insects and microorganisms in the litter and by extension the population of these organisms in the litter:  “…the importance of biotic factors (bacteria, fungi, macroinvertebrates) in litter breakdown is greater than that of the physical fragmentation.”

The study then compared these findings with similar studies conducted all over the world.  When they found differences between their results of those of other scientists, they explained them in terms of local differences in conditions.  For example, in European native forests, more deciduous trees are found than in Californian native forests.

Only one similar study was conducted in North America, specifically in two streams in southern California:  “… [it] compared the decomposition of Eucalyptus litter to native species and found it slower than that of Alnus [alder], faster than that of Rhus [sumac] and similar to Quercus agrifolia [coast live oak].  Both the decomposition rate and the biomass of macroinvertebrate colonizers differed much more between…two streams than among the litter species.”

Both the results of their study, and the review of the literature of similar studies, led the researchers to this conclusion:

“In coastal California, we conclude that presence of small patches of riparian Eucalyptus even though it influences the species composition of plant litter in streams, has no noticeable influence on diversity and composition of benthic macroinvertebrates that colonize the litter.  Furthermore, based on similarities in leaf decomposition, Eucalyptus litter appears likely to be as suitable a substratum for macroinvertebrate colonization as some of the components of the native litter in the three streams tested.  Thus, the overall condition of these small streams is not markedly degraded by the presence of patches of riparian Eucalyptus and is unlikely to be improved by their removal.”

Looking for Godot

Looking for evidence of the harm that eucalyptus does to our ecosystems is like waiting for Godot.  No one has found any evidence yet.  We venture to say that they can keep looking, but we think they are looking for something that isn’t there.  If we keep pointing out that there is no evidence to support their indictment against eucalyptus, will they give it up eventually?  All we can do is keep trying. 

We congratulate those with the tenacity to slog through this tedious post.  Your reward is more good news for our harmless eucalyptus.


Igor Lacan, Vincent Resh, Joe McBride, “Similar breakdown rates and benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages in native and Eucalyptus globulus leaf litter in Californian streams,” Freshwater Biology, 55, 739-752, 2010.

Doug Tallamy refutes his own theory without changing his ideology

In our debates with native plant advocates, the scientist who is most often quoted to support their beliefs is Doug Tallamy who wrote an influential book, Bringing Nature Home:  How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens.    Professor Tallamy is an entomologist at the University of Delaware.

Professor Tallamy’s hypothesis is that native insects require native plants because they have evolved together “over thousands of generations.”  Because insects are an essential ingredient in the food web, he speculates that the absence of native plants would ultimately result in “ecological collapse” as other animals in the food web are starved by the loss of insects. (1)

Professor Tallamy freely admits that his theory is based on his anecdotal observations in his own garden, not on scientific evidence:  “How do we know the actual extent to which our native insect generalists are eating alien plants?  We don’t until we go into the field and see exactly what is eating what.  Unfortunately, this important but simple task has been all but ignored so far.”  (1)

This research has now been done to Professor Tallamy’s satisfaction by a Master’s Degree student under his direction.  The report of that study does not substantiate Professor Tallamy’s belief that insects eat only native plants.  In his own words, Professor Tallamy now tells us:

“Erin [Reed] compared the amount of damage sucking and chewing insects made on the ornamental plants at six suburban properties landscaped primarily with species native to the area and six properties landscaped traditionally.  After two years of measurements Erin found that only a tiny percentage of leaves were damaged on either set of properties at the end of the season….Erin’s most important result, however, was that there was no statistical difference in the amount of damage on either landscape type.” (2)

Corroborating Evidence

This finding that insects are equally likely to eat native and non-native plants may be new to Professor Tallamy, but it isn’t new to the readers of Million Trees.  We have reported many studies which are consistent with this finding.

Anise Swallowtail butterfly in non-native fennel
The English garden, where plants from all over the world are welcome

Specialists vs. Generalists

When debating with native plant advocates, one quickly learns that the debate isn’t ended by putting facts such as these on the table.  In this case, the comeback is, “The insects using non-native plants are generalists.  Insects that are specialists will not make that transition.”  Generalists are insects that eat a wide variety of plants, while specialists are limited to only one plant or plants in the same family which are chemically similar.

Professor Tallamy offers in support of this contention that only “…about 10 percent of the insect herbivores in a given ecosystem [are not specialists],” implying that few insects are capable of making a transition to another host plant.

However, categorizing insects as specialists or generalists is not a dichotomy.  At one extreme, there are some insects that choose a single species of plant as its host or its meal.  At the other extreme, there are insects that feed on more than three different plant families.  It is only that extreme category which has been estimated at only 10% of all phytophagous (plant-eating) insects.  The majority of insects are in the middle of the continuum.  They are generally confined to a single plant family in which the plants are chemically similar.

Putting that definition of “specialist” as confined to one plant family into perspective, let us consider the size of plant families.  For example, there are 20,000 plant members of the Asteraceae family, including the native sagebrush (Artemisia) and the non-native African daisy.  In other words, the insect that confines its diet to one family of plants is not very specialized. 

Soapberry bug on balloon vine. Scott Carroll. UC Davis

Professor Tallamy offers his readers an explanation for why specialist insects cannot make the transition from native to non-native plants.  He claims that many non-native plants are chemically unique and therefore insects are unable to adapt to them.  He offers examples of non-native plants and trees which “are not related to any lineage of plants in North America.”  One of his examples is the goldenrain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata).  This is the member of the soapberry (Sapindaceae) family to which the soapberry bug has made a transition from a native plant in the soapberry family in less than 100 generations over a period of 20 to 50 years.  Professor Tallamy’s other examples of unique non-native plant species are also members of large plant families which probably contain native members.  Professor Tallamy is apparently mistaken in his assumption that most or all non-native plants are unique, with no native relatives. 

The pace of evolution

Even if insects are “specialists” we should not assume that their dependence on a native plant is incapable of changing over time.  Professor Tallamy’s hypothesis about the mutually exclusive relationships between native animals and native plants is based on an outdated notion of the slow pace of evolution.  The assumption amongst native plant advocates is that these relationships are nearly immutable.

In fact, evolution continues today and is sometimes even visible within the lifetime of observers.  Professor Tallamy provides his readers with examples of non-native insects that made quick transitions to native plants:

  • The hemlock wooly adelgids from Asia have had a devastating effect on native hemlock forests in the eastern United States.
  • The Japanese beetle introduced to the United States is now eating the foliage of over 400 plants (according to Professor Tallamy), some of which are native (according to the USDA invasive species website).

These insects apparently made transitions to chemically similar native plants without evolutionary adaptation. If non-native insects quickly adapt to new hosts, doesn’t it seem likely that native insects are capable of doing the same?  That is both logical and consistent with our experience.    For example, the native soapberry bug mentioned above has undergone rapid evolution of its beak length to adapt to a new host.

Although Professor Tallamy tells us that the relationship between insects and plants evolved over “thousands of generations,” he acknowledges much faster changes in plants when he explains why non-native plants become invasive decades after their arrival:  “Japanese honeysuckle, for example, was planted as an ornamental for 80 years before it escaped cultivation.  No one is sure why this lag time occurs.  Perhaps during the lag period, the plant is changing genetically through natural selection to better fit its new environment.”  Does it make sense that the evolution of plants would be much more rapid than the evolution of insects?  Since the lifetime of most insects is not substantially longer than the lifetime of most plants, we don’t see the logic in this assumption.

Beliefs die hard

Although Professor Tallamy now concedes that there is no evidence that insects are dependent upon native plants, he continues to believe that the absence of native plants will cause “ecological collapse.”  In the same book in which he reports the study of his graduate student, Professor Tallamy repeats his mantra:  “…our wholesale replacement of native plant communities with disparate collections of plants from other parts of the world is pushing our local animals to the brink of extinction—and the ecosystems that sustain human societies to the edge of collapse.”

This alarmist conclusion is offered without providing examples of any animals being “pushed to the brink of extinction.”  In fact, available scientific evidence contradicts this alarmist conclusion. (3)

Here are more articles about the mistaken theories of Doug Tallamy:

  • Doug Tallamy claims that non-native plants are “ecological traps for birds.”  HERE is an article that disputes that theory.
  • Doug Tallamy claims that native and non-native plants in the same genus are not equally useful to wildlife, but he is wrong about that.  Story is HERE.
  • Doug Tallamy advocates for the eradication of butterfly bush (Buddleia) because it is not native.  He claims it is not useful to butterflies, but he is wrong about that.  Story is HERE.
  • Doug Tallamy publishes a laboratory study that he believes contradicts field studies, but he is wrong about that.  Story is HERE.
  • Doug Tallamy speaks to Smithsonian Magazine, Art Shapiro responds, Million Trees fills in the gaps:  HERE
  • Doug Tallamy’s Nature’s Best Hope perpetuates the myth that berry-producing non-native plants must be eradicated because they are less nutritious than the berries of native plants.  Available HERE
  • Doug Tallamy believes we must prevent hybridization.  Hybridization is a natural process that increases biodiversity and enables plants and animals to adapt to changes in the environment.  Available HERE.
  • There is NO evidence to support Doug Tallamy’s claim that insect populations are declining because of the existence of non-native plants.  Available HERE.


(1)    Tallamy, Doug, Bringing Nature Home, Timber Press, 2007

(2)    Tallamy, Doug, “Flipping the Paradigm:  Landscapes that Welcome Wildlife,” chapter in

Christopher, Thomas, The New American Landscape, Timber Press, 2011

(3)    Erle C. Ellis, et. al., “All Is Not Loss:  Plant Biodiversity in the Anthropocene,”