— This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 2 August 2010, was last revised on 14 August 2013. © EntomoBiotics Vol. 31:08(01).
Envision using a systematic and purposeful approach to manage select portions of your environment. Create in your mind as nurturing and attractive an environment as humanly achievable. Then make it happen by taking positive steps to change your environment in ways that nurture and attract organisms that — to you — are positively beneficial, and that are unattractive and non-nurturing to organisms that — again, to your way of thinking — are negative detractors. That’s habitat modification.
Habitat modification changes the balance of nature in your surroundings, making your life more comfortable and secure. And it can be carried out using the simplest of tasks. By — for example — keeping trees and shrubs trimmed and healthy, removing harborage, and sealing holes; and also by balancing sun and shade, wet and dry, thick vegetation and open areas. It even applies to such personal issues as kitty and pet litter odors, by modifying the micro-habitats within litter boxes; and even to embarrassing foot odor, which can be controlled simply by modifying the micro-habitat inside your footwear.
When all these habitat modification processes are orchestrated properly, and they become the gateway to producing a pest-and-pesticide-free environment, they champion — in the process — what we call the PestAvoidance concept.
PestAvoidance is not a new idea. Though she didn’t call it that, Lyn Wadley (as recently reported by Michael Balter in the journal Science), a South African archaelogist, notes that the concept was practiced by our earliest human ancestors. In 2011 Wadley reported on a dig she was supervising at Sibudu Cave, a rock shelter in a cliff face overlooking Tongati River, some 40 kilometers from the modern city of Durban. Sibudu was first occupied by modern humans at least 77,000 years ago and served as a gathering spot for the next 40,000 years.
Wadley’s team found that many of the archaeological layers in Sibudu Cave were the remains of plant-based bedding materials. The earliest layer, some 77,000 years old, included — among others — the leaves of Cryptocarya woodii, also known as the Cape laurel. This aromatic botanical, which today is used to produce traditional medicines, contains several chemical compounds that — in concentrated form — can kill insects. There is no evidence that ancient man used these leaves as bedding in Sibudu for anything more than as habitat modifiers, creating a more pleasant environment inside the cave enclosure, specifically one that neither nurtured or attracted mosquitoes, flies, gnats, or — yes — even bedbugs.
Are there Limitations to Mechanical Modifications?
Yes, to the extent that we are constrained from modifying environments that extend beyond our legal control. But it isn’t necessary to achieve absolute perfection to realize significant fruits from our efforts. Even where the environments we exert control over are too small to achieve perfection, a worthwhile balance is still possible.
Example: On large plots of land covered with huge, ancient trees, it may be impossible to balance shade and sun without imperiling those trees. Still, though the challenges are great, they are not insurmountable, and by capitalizing on all the other habitat modifications that can be carried out under the trees, amazing results are obtainable.
Supplemental Habitat Modifications
Mechanical modifications needn’t stand on their own, but can be aided by substances from nature. Strategically-placed natural plant oils and terpenes, used in their natural form, in concentrated distillations, or diluted in a variety of transport and application media, are indispensable in this role. The inhabitants of Sidubu Cave recognized that as early as 77,000 years ago.
Can You Do-It-Yourself?
Modifying a living habitat to achieve a nurturing and attractive environment is both simple and easy to do. Whether the habitat is a yard, a home, or a business complex, the necessary processes typically involve a series of changes that can last for years, decades, or longer, often with a minimum of upkeep.
Such habitat modifications, done on a do-it-yourself basis, can reduce or eliminate up to 90% of the non-nurturing, unattractive conditions normally found within an otherwise unbalanced environment.
For some that is enough. For others most of the remaining 10% can be removed by applying natural cleansers in the form of essential plant oils of various kinds. These cleansers can be dispensed as liquid sprays and impregnated into various kinds of solid granules for use in yards, homes, and gardens. They can be impregnated into absorbent inserts and stuffed into shoes, boots, and athletic footwear. The same natural cleansers can be dispensed in special substrates designed to cleanse the beds of lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, or ponds, without affecting the overlying water or the animals that swim there.