Long Island’s Native Ecosystem and Food Web

The loss of our wildflower-rich grasslands due to development, herbicides, climate change, and competition from introduced plants are impacting native bees and other pollinators, now experiencing simultaneous dramatic declines. Because native wildflower seed banks may no longer exist on their former sites,  everyone should help bring back lost native plant species, which is what we are attempting to do at Carpenter Farm Park.

Viable food webs: Native birds and other wildlife specialize in insect diets often consisting of native butterflies and moths. For example, eighty percent of a hummingbird’s diet consists of insects, and ninety percent of our bird populations rear their young on  lepidoptera (caterpillars), and arthropods (spiders that also raise their young on lepidoptera). Finally, the butterflies and moths that survive birds and spiders go on to pollinate many of our native wildflowers.

Ninety percent of the insects that eat plants can only eat those with which they co-evolved. So what are the best plants for our native butterflies and moths to eat while in the larval stage? Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, has a list: The number following the plant(s) represents the number of lepidoptera species that feed upon that host genus.

  • oak 532
  • beach plum, cherry, chokecherry, peach, plum, sweet cherry 456
  • willow 455
  • birch 411
  • aspen, cottonwood, poplar 367
  • crabapple, apple 308
  • maple, boxelder 297
  • cranberry, blueberry 294
  • alder 255
  • hickory, pecan, pignut, bitternut 235
  • clover 122
  • goldenrod 115
  • aster 109
  • strawberry 81
  • sunflower 75
  • beans 66
  • Virginia plantain 66
  • horsenettle, nightshade 61
  • native knotweed, smartweed 58
  • native lettuce 51