Non-native species do little for local ecosystem: tree expert

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Native trees provide countless benefits to our local ecosystem – they promote biodiversity, feed and shelter a myriad of wildlife, and help maintain and beautify the natural environment. Yet the public’s appetite for planting non-native or alien trees is having detrimental effects on the ecosystem.

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So said conservationist Larry Cornelis at a March 16 meeting of the Sarnia Horticultural Society.

Cornelis spoke to the company about the importance of planting native trees.

“I could talk about trees for hours and hours and hours,” he said, posting images of a number of images of large native trees from his past travels in the southwest of Ontario and North America.

Native trees are immeasurably important for a number of reasons, Cornelis said. They produce oxygen, they sequester carbon, they build soil, and they manage and clean water.

Additionally, native trees also regulate the climate, support native insects and Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), provide habitat for countless animals, and offer incredible beauty to the community.

“We shouldn’t ask why trees matter, why insects matter, why raccoons matter because everything matters…everything is interconnected,” he told the audience. “We have a relationship with trees…we wouldn’t exist without forests and trees.”

Local native tree species such as tulip trees (“the quintessential Carolinian tree,” said Cornelis), pine oak or American sycamore are invaluable as they support the entire forest ecosystem, feeding and providing habitat for a number of local insects, birds and birds. other animals.

Ninety percent of native insects are specialists, Cornelis said, meaning they can only eat a certain type of native tree/plant/vegetation. If these trees no longer exist, the entire food chain is affected.

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In contrast, non-native trees such as Norwegian spruce do virtually nothing for local wildlife. They also displace native species and can significantly disrupt the local ecosystem.

Native tree species also improve soil quality, promote genetic variation, and can communicate with each other through a process called mycorrhizal fungal networks.

“If we could wave a magic wand, change our trees to European and Japanese trees, the whole ecosystem would collapse,” he said. “When you plant a native tree, you are integrating an ecological function into our landscape. All we have done in recent years (by planting non-native trees) is destroying this ecological function.

Unfortunately, people from all corners of the globe seem to be addicted to buying strange and mysterious trees abroad, trees that degrade their own ecosystems, Cornelis said.

“There’s an appeal of buying something exotic,” he says. “In Europe they plant our red oaks while here in Canada we plant Norway maples.”

With overall afforestation levels hovering around eight to nine percent in Lambton County and hovering just above three percent in Chatham-Kent, Cornelis outlined several steps local residents could take to increase numbers. native trees in the area, thereby enhancing and sustaining the environment.

Maintaining the native species we already have, planting native species wherever we can and avoiding clones/planting native trees from seed can make a small but significant difference, he said, and increase biodiversity In the region.

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Following his presentation, Cornelis said that although more and more people are realizing the many benefits of growing native trees on their property, many are still opting for the exotic when buying a tree. trees.

“This is news to most people,” he said. “Very few people ask for native trees in (garden centers).”

When asked if planting native trees could make a tangible difference in altering the local ecosystem, Cornelis spoke of the remarkable transformation of his own property over the past 15 years.

“Come to my farm,” he laughs. “Fifteen years ago it was a soybean field, but I’ve sacrificed 25 acres and now…it’s amazing. The biodiversity of birds and animals and insects and amphibians – there are owls in my pines, there are swamps. When it was a soybean field, maybe a bird flew over your head, now it’s very impressive.

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