A keystone species is one which disproportionately affects a particular ecosystem’s plants and animals. Organizing your garden around native keystone species can ensure that you’re bringing your piece of Earth in line with the plants and animals around you.

Conservationists use the designation of keystone species when trying to raise awareness or money for a species they’re trying to protect. Marine examples of this are whales, krill, and seagrass, while terrestrial species could include tigers, oaks, and monarch butterflies.

If keystone species disappear, food webs can be fragmented. If they’re protected, the system flourishes. In order to protect tigers, entire ecosystems have to be preserved as a whole, ensuring thousands of species remain undisturbed. Thus the tiger becomes the ‘keystone’ by which the ecosystem stays intact.

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Many of us will be familiar with the plight of America’s bee populations, as well as guides about planting bee-friendly flowers in our gardens. However, all kinds of insect species affect the local ecosystem, and native keystone plants will help support them.

Two such insects are moths and butterflies, whose offspring in the form of caterpillars provide more for the forest and field than you might imagine.

The butterfly effect

Without pollinators, humans and most other animals would perish in short order. As pollinator habitat becomes fragmented around civilization, planting a native pollinator-friendly garden can offer them little oases of food and shelter.

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