My Backyard: The Artificial Selection Experiment.

Despite my country upbringing and both my parents being avid gardeners I’m not that good at taking care of plants. Nearly every single plant that has been under my care has died a horrible slow death thanks to my neglectful nature save for a lone Zebra Cactus which has managed to thrive where everything else failed. It then follows that my backyard which consists of a few various trees, large swath of lawn and an untamed hedge would probably be some kind of desolate wasteland with only a few tumble weeds roaming by. Strangely enough however the backyard teams with all sorts of plant life and no matter how hard I try to get rid of some of them they keep coming back as if to mock my deliberate attempts to thwart them.

When we first bought the house the backyard had been recently been re-turfed and looked quite nice. However this didn’t last long as the lack of rain and heavy water restrictions meant that we couldn’t give it what it needed to stay the luscious green that it once was. The backyard was then a dust bowl for the longest time before we started getting some serious rain again and almost immediately afterwards we were confronted with a cacophony or varying plant life that decided to call our backyard home. For the most part these were common grasses so we were happy to see the green return to our backyard.

Over the last winter however we let the lawn get overgrown mostly because we didn’t want to kill off the green covering that we had managed to get back after years of not having it. Still with summer fast approaching I knew we’d end up with grass over half a meter tall if we didn’t start to maintain it right away. After ploughing through the thick tufts of grass for nigh on an hour I began to notice something; that lovely green covering was anything but that. In fact the grass that had taken over the back yard grew in such a way that it covered the area surrounding the main tuft. This smothered any other plants that were nearby and so instead of having grass covering the back yard we in fact had dozens of tufts that barely covered it at all. So much for that illusion of a green lawn.

Thinking about it for a while I realised what I could do to get the ground covering I had been looking for. You see in the absence of any other involvement the dominant species in the back yard would be the plant that could get the most sunlight and smother any of it’s potential competitors. The various broad leafed weeds that had once infested our yard had no chance since they didn’t have the height advantage that this particular grass did and any kind of crawlers were quickly trounced by the fast growing tufts. What was needed was some artificial selection with yours truly at the helm.

For as long as we’ve lived in our current house I’ve put off doing any yard work for as long as humanly possible. This is mostly because I was lazy and had other more pressing things to attend to but in doing so I fostered conditions that allowed one species to dominate our back yard. In order to get an even coating of some kind of plant in our back yard I figured that I’d need to constantly mow it, at least once every 2 weeks. This then destroyed the advantage that the tall grass tufts had whilst providing favourable conditions for smaller plant life in the form of the grass clippings. I began this experiment about a month ago and the results have been quite surprising.

As of today our back yard isn’t dominated by a single plant any more as there at least 5 distinct plant varieties that now thrive there. Whilst the tall grass tufts still remain there are at least 2 other species of grass, 1 lot of clovers, several clusters of dandelions and a crawler that seems to have overtaken a corner next to a couple of our trees. It would seem that the selection pressure I put on the environment of our back yard was enough to encourage many plants to get a foothold in our little ecosystem and now they’re all doing battle for backyard supremacy. My money is on the clovers taking over as they grow quicker than anything else and have a substantial footprint already, but time will tell which one of these plants becomes victorious.

For an armchair scientist like myself this little experiment gave me one of those little thrills that you can only get from an experiment going so well. Verifying a hypothesis, even one that’s got a wealth of proper scientific study behind it, is really what science is all about and it’s so amazing to be able to do it right in your own back yard. I bet if (you have a backyard that is) you take a look out at your own ecosystem you’ll see various selection pressures at work and, depending on how sciencey you’re feeling, conduct your very own artificial selection experiment.

So tell me friends, what does your backyard ecosystem look like?

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