Creating a pond ecosystem
Until I sat down on
Friday afternoon to watch my three tiny
through their watery environment, I'd forgotten how much joy I used to
get from the three little ponds I built in my city backyard as a
high-school kid. Yes, while normal people were out doing whatever
teenagers do, I was building a resilient pond ecosystem (a success),
trying to get moss to grow on concrete (a failure), and making daily
sketches of whatever caught my eye.
I flipped back through
the sketchbooks this weekend to refresh my memory about what exactly
was in that pond ecosystem. The fish, of course, got top
billing. I tried to add minnows out of a nearby creek, but most
died immediately due to low dissolved oxygen levels in the unmoving
water, and the last ones froze over the winter. Koi were
beautiful, but really too big for my "mud puddles" (as annoyed siblings
were known to call them), and not winter hardy. On the other
hand, I'm pretty sure my feeder goldfish froze solid one winter and
came back to life that spring. They even got big enough to fill
the ponds with tiny goldfish fry!
Even though the fish were the
most eye-catching, what I wanted to recall were the details about my
submerged plants. I suspect it was my trio of parrot's feather,
anacharis, and hornwort that kept oxygen levels high enough for the
fish to survive, and also gave them plenty of places to hide.
Hornwort was the most cold hardy and the one I want to add to my
current pondlet, but I didn't make any notes in my sketchbooks about
where the plants came from. (I'm pretty sure the other two
species came from the pet store, so maybe the hornwort did too?)
I'm not sure where the
water snails came from, but they were real winners. I identified
them (rightly or wrongly) as tadpole snails, and they laid gelatinous
masses of eggs on the submerged plants, creating a host of mini-snails
who grew like gangbusters. The snails kept things clean, and as I
discovered one still day, could even slide across the underside of the
water surface using water tension, like a water strider in reverse.
(I think these guys have a potential for chicken feed, if we can figure
out how to prepare them properly.)
If I had built my guilds
perfectly, you'd think the pond would still contain just as much
diversity 16.5 years after I graduated and left the aquatic ecosystem
to its own devices. Instead, everything seems to have disappeared
except the duckweed (and possibly the tadpole snails). I mostly
blame the decline in biodiversity on the small scale --- it's tough to
keep a fifteen-gallon world in balance.
Our chicken waterer keeps the flock's drinking water clean so I can focus on growing wild foods.
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