its ability to sustain life. Plants are considered a critical resource because of the many ways they support life on Earth. They release oxygen into the atmosphere, absorb carbon dioxide, provide habitat and food for wildlife and humans, and regulate the water cycle¹. Because of the many ways plants help the environment, their importance should not be forgotten.
Without plants, humans and animals would have less fresh air to breathe. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants release oxygen back into the atmosphere. What you may not have known is that plants from the ocean are what provide most of the air that we breathe². These single celled plants that thrive in the ocean are also known as phytoplankton. Green terrestrial plants make up the rest of atmospheric oxygen that’s essential for the survival of living organisms³.
During this time of climate uncertainty, it’s important to realize the role plants can play to help mitigate the effects of climate change. One of the biggest environmental issues the world faces today is the burning of fossil fuels which has resulted in high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Although climate change is a reality the world must face, society is still highly reliant on fossil fuels to supply energy needs. This is where plants come in to play. Terrestrial and oceanic plants are considered carbon sinks because of their ability to store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere⁴. Important carbon sink ecosystems include: grasslands, boreal forests, tropical rainforests, peat bogs, wetlands, coral reefs and coastal ecosystems.
Plants are also important because they provide habitats for wildlife and humans. For example, many species of birds rely on trees and shrubs for habitat, whether they live in the crevices of trees or build nests on branches. Healthy habitats also provide wildlife with roosting cover and shelter from predators⁵. Unfortunately, habitat loss is considered one of the causes for species endangerment and extinction. Forest ecosystems continually face deforestation in the form of fires, clear cutting for agriculture and ranching, and unsustainable logging⁶. Plants play a pinnacle role in many of the Earth’s ecosystems so their presence is important to ensure wildlife and ecosystem health.
Since plants are considered primary producers, they play an important role in feeding the Earth’s wildlife and humans. Herbivores, such as deer, rely on plants directly to meet their dietary needs, while carnivores, such as lions, feed on animals that also feed on plants for their survival. And omnivores, such as humans, rely on both. Whether directly or indirectly all wildlife and humans rely on plants for sustenance.
Water Cycle Regulation
About 10% of the moisture in the atmosphere is released by plants through the process of transpiration⁷. Plants uptake water through their roots and release water vapour through small pores on the underside of their leaves. Through this process of transpiration plants also help circulate water from the soil back into the atmosphere. Not only that, but plants help stabilize bodies of water such as rivers, lakes and streams. Plant roots improve soil stability, prevent landslides, and keep these ecosystems intact.
Despite the many benefits that plants provide, one of the environmental issues we face is environmental degradation. The Earth’s ecosystems are subject to deforestation, development and resource extraction. Because of the many ways plants help humans and the environment, ecosystems and plants need to be protected. During this time of environmental uncertainty, it’s important that we don’t take their presence for granted.