Damien Vella is Senior Horticulturist at the Botanic Gardens and does a great job of sharing natural history moments he encounters throughout his life on his instagram account. He has a particular skill for taking events from the backyard and telling a story that weaves in the underlying ecology in a fascinating way. He also shares one of my deep interests-that is creating habitat in backyards (Even better that it is the aquatic type).
Below is his guest blog discussing backyard habitat ponds…
Backyard Habitat Ponds 101
Habitat ponds not only look amazing, but also serve as one of the most effective ways of protecting your local area’s biodiversity. Planting local provenance (provenance means the region from where it came – each area has its own genetic populations of organisms which may be very different to other populations of the same species within other parts of the organism’s range) water plants helps maintain your area’s biodiversity from literally the ground up. The plants themselves add two essential elements to the pond. They take out nutrients through their roots and provide habitat for countless species.
Over the last 3 years the pond shown in this footage has attracted:
Dwarf Green Tree frogs
Perons tree Frog
Blue banded bees who roost on the water plants
Long Jawed spiders (Tetragnatha sp)
Giant water Beetles
Water boat man
Water Striders and related
White faced Heron
In addition to these already attracted species I have introduced native fish:
Crimson Spotted Rainbow Fish
Fire tail Gudgeons
Pacific Blue Eyes
There is a huge amount of diversity in just the pond alone. Imagine combining this with a bee hotel, veggie patch, and other local provenance species in the rest of the garden. The scale doesn’t have to be huge for a similar result, 30cm to a few metres will make all the difference for hundreds of animals, plants and fungi – some of which you may not even notice unless you have a microscope.
Problems and solutions
Mosquitoes: An established healthy pond will be void of mosquito larvae, the large 55m length pond I have created is 3 years old and there is not a single mosquito larvae in it. This is because of the vast array of predators from dragon fly nymphs, to the many species of native fish, and even mosquito larvae‐eating aquatic plants (utricularia). Mosquito eggs don’t even have a chance of hatching because of the likely predation of waterboat man and water striders. The main problem could be from adult mosquitoes from neighbouring properties attracted to your aquatic trap. This is where other species of native plants above water come into play. Frogs, beneficial spiders and adult dragonflies all eat adult mosquitoes. Micro bats are also useful air support during the night, often eating huge amounts of insects including mosquitoes. Adding a micro bat box under the eve of your house will provide these micro bats with valuable shelter.
Other options are to communicate with neighbours and ask them if they have any buckets or containers lying about, show them your pond, show them the trap you have created for the mosquitoes and hopefully you will get them on board.
Algae: Algae are often the first organisms to colonise a newly created pond. Establishing local provenance water plants will help compete against the algae and eventually control them to beneficial levels. Avoid algae killers for this reason. Algae in small amounts is a valuable resource for many aquatic organisms and only noticeable if there is an abnormal amount of nutrients. Ensure your pond is not placed under any trees or plants with constant leaf drop, as this will create a constant nutrient supply for the algae.
When to introduce native fish: Give the pond time to stabilise, frogs to move in and plants to grow and create adequate habitat – moderate water temperature. This usually takes a year depending on the size of the pond, but by being patient you will ensure all inhabitants can coexist in balanced populations.
And finally while we are talking backyard ponds – Native fish are always best! Ill leave this clip of my favourite freshwater fish here for those that think Australian native fish just aren’t as colourful as some of the exotics!