Although often overlooked, plant species provide important economic and ecological functions.
There is an interrelationship between plants and animals; without plants, animals cannot survive. Plants provide oxygen, shelter, and food for a variety of different animal species. All of these biological and ecological functions are at risk of being severely disrupted because aggressive exotic species affect native flora in, which then results in an ecological imbalance. Exotic species “replace native plants and animals, … alter ecosystem functions like soil formation and nutrient processes, and form monocultures of exotic plants where species-rich and diverse natural communities once flourished.”
Plants provide a number of essential ecosystem functions. First, photosynthesis, a process by which plants take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, provide most of the oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere. Without oxygen, life on earth cannot be sustained. Protection of plants ensures protection of future life on our planet. By replacing native flora with exotics, it is unclear to what extent the biological processes of our planet’s ecosystem will be disrupted. Because of the vital need for oxygen by all living things, photosynthesis and therefore native plants must be protected in order to protect all living things on our planet.
Second, plants provide shelter to a number of different species.
For example, one plant can provide support for fifteen to twenty different species including fungi, insects, plants, and bacteria. Further, plants provide shelter from heat and cold. Protecting plants promotes the protection of other species, which in turn results in a more stable ecosystem. Invasive plants completely alter the natural environment and natural habitat. Because native animals and insects are dependent upon native plants, when native plants are forced out and replaced by exotics, native animals and insects must adapt to the new habitat, migrate to other areas, or die. Accordingly, the trickling effects from changes in habitat due to invasive plants must be halted in order to protect our planet.
Third, there are economic incentives to preserve plant species and biodiversity. Plants produce chemicals that are used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, herbs, and medicines. Because everything is not yet known about plant species, their future potential may be even greater than their current economic value. Plants should be protected in order to promote and preserve the possibility of future uses and economic benefits. Many native plant species are dwindling because exotic plants are forcing them out. But their economic importance has not yet been fully studied or explored. Accordingly, there are strong economic incentives for preserving native flora and thus protect our planet at the same time.
Finally, an inherent right argument to conserve plant species is gaining more support.
Under an inherent right view, all species including plants have the right to live. Humans are moral beings and have a duty to preserve and protect other living species. When a species is lost to extinction, humans have ignored their duty to protect another living species thereby violating all moral duties. The problem of native plant loss is increasing directly because of human interaction with the environment. Further, humans are the main reason behind the introduction of invasive species all around our planet. Accordingly, under an inherent right theory, humans should do everything possible in order to reverse the negative effects of exotic species because humans are the ones who caused the problem and they have a moral duty to preserve native plant species.
Protecting native plants will protect our planet. Start with educating yourself with what is native and what is invasive. If you have your own outdoor space, remove all invasive species and replace them with native plants. If you don’t have your own outdoor space, get involved with local environmental groups who are working to remove invasive species. Thanks for helping Planet Protectors! Our planet thanks you!
Kevin E. Regan, The Need for a Comprehensive Approach to Protecting Rare Plants: Florida As a Case Study, 44 Nat. Resources J. 125, 127 (2004).