The Value of Native Species
Why should we value the native plants and animals of Albemarle County? After all, we live on a landscape that already has suffered many disturbances. Populations of many native species present at the start of European colonization have become greatly reduced or have disappeared. Some plant and animal species transported here from other places are becoming common. Climate change threatens to make the local environment less hospitable to species that have lived here in the past.
The natural resources chapter of the Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan recognizes the value of native species. The reasons for valuing native species fall broadly into several categories: 1) their roles in ecosystem functions, 2) their uses to humans, and 3) a sense of a wider value supporting the persistence of other life forms.
Ecosystems are built of life forms that play complementary roles in the economy of nature (for example, predators and their prey). Native species have developed together and are, to a degree, adapted to each others' presences. Removal of even one species from an ecosystem can disturb that ecosystem's functions.
Native plants and animals have been useful to humans. Many drugs are derived from compounds discovered in wild plants. Domestic plant and animal species essential to agriculture are derived from members of wild species. Local populations of species vary in genetic composition with space. Loss of local populations of native species reduces the gene pool from which medicines and domestic species might be developed. Native species used in landscaping may be self-sustaining by not requiring fertilizing, watering or mulching.
Most of us value the unique features of the places in which we live. Native plants form the basis of the natural systems we value in Albemarle County. In addition, most people subscribe to the view that there is a wide, ethical value to generally supporting the existence of other forms of life.
Web sites for information on Virginia native plants