Native plants are, by definition, the product of hundreds of thousands of years of adaptation to local soils, rainfall, and general climate conditions. Native plant communities support local food webs. The flora and fauna of a given region have co-evolved. Most of our native plant communities, and the subsequent biodiversity they once supported, have been diminished by our current land use practices – including urban, agricultural, forest, and rural land uses. Fortunately, efforts to reduce declining biodiversity are underway by organizations worldwide. And, thankfully, we too have an opportunity to contribute by consciously planting and protecting natives, especially those identified as the most ecologically productive – known as “keystone” species.
As you know, food webs start with plants converting the sun’s energy into protein and carbohydrates. These are consumed by the animals referred to as grazers – both the numerous invertebrates (insects) and the less numerous larger vertebrates such as deer, etc. Then, sitting more toward the top of the pyramid are the omnivores and predators. At the food web’s broad, foundational bottom, it is the grazing insects, and especially the caterpillars of moths and butterflies which feed nearly exclusively on native plants, that are critical to sustaining our birds and all the rest of our native wildlife.
So, to protect this food web that depends on native plants, maybe together we can begin an initiative that might be called “Go Native for Biodiversity.” To this end, we will be highlighting the most ecologically productive keystone species and their potential use in our landscapes in subsequent posts.