It just makes sense in our minds that native plants go together with native wildlife. For most of us, it would probably be silly to separate native plants and native wildlife because they are so dependent on one another. Could you even imagine a Cheetah without the grasses of the Serengeti? Or a panda without its bamboo? Sounds ridiculous, right?
Well, have you ever thought about why native plants are so important to wildlife? There are indeed reasons why ecosystems naturally work the way that they do, with all of their intricacies that include plants, animals, and other living things like insects, fungi, and bacteria. Every plant and animal has a role, or sometimes many roles, that they play to allow for the smooth functioning of a healthy ecosystem.
Also consider that when an invasive plant species is introduced into the ecosystem and outcompetes the native plants and alters the existing habitat, the wildlife in that ecosystem are likely to suffer. If the wildlife cannot adapt to the new habitat conditions or aren’t able to move to suitable new habitat, they may not survive.
The following are a number of reasons why native plants are important for wildlife. Can you think of any more?
- Wildlife evolved with native plants and are adapted to them
Animals and plants evolved together to form the Earth’s complex ecosystems as we know them today. Each organism has its own place in nature and depends on the unique relationships that have developed with the other organisms around them.
For instance, in the wild, giraffes are very well adapted to eat from tall trees such as Acacia trees that grow in their native habitat on African grasslands.
- Wildlife eat native plants (or eat the animals or other creatures that eat them)
Many animals are herbivores or omnivores, and depend on certain species of native plants for food. While some animals can and do eat a wide variety of plants or are able to adapt to eating new plants, many will not be able to do so.
Other animals eat the animals that are eating the native plants, so even the carnivores of an ecosystem will likely be negatively impacted if the native plants disappear.
- Wildlife use native plants as medicine
We are very familiar with the use of herbal medicine among our fellow humans, but did you know that wildlife also use plants as medicine?
For example, Clever Monkeys use the leaves of the Piper plant to repel insects, and Tamarins swallow large seeds to control parasitic infections .
Even milkweed plants that mother Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on help their babies to fend off parasites when they consume its leaves after hatching .
- Wildlife hide and hang out in native plants
Native plants provide important cover for many native wildlife so that they can hide from predators and feel safe. Conversely, native plants also hide predators, allowing them to effectively sneak up on and attack their unsuspecting prey.
- Wildlife sleep in native plants, breed in them, and raise their young in them
Some wildlife require very specific native plants to meet their habitat needs, or they cannot survive. For instance, the Spotted Owl in Northern California requires the trees of native virgin forest habitat to live.
- Native plants form a very important part of an ecosystem in which wildlife live
Ecosystems themselves are most often defined by the native plants that live there, like the Redwood Forests of Northern California, or the seemingly endless flowing grasses of The Everglades of Southern Florida. These native plants form the basis of the habitats which every creature that dwells in that particular habitat lives in.
Often, these native plants even determine the weather, and to a certain extent, the climate of an ecosystem, such as how the trees of the Amazon Rainforest enable the regular rainfall that occurs there. This occurs because the tropical trees help to maintain the local water cycle and retains adequate moisture in the air.