The worst part of being a plant is that if you don’t like the place where you were born, you can’t pick up and move. With roots firmly anchored in the ground, a plant is stuck in one location for life, which may be less than a year but could be for centuries.
Plants must have ways to deal with constant challenges in their environment. Animals may be able to run away, find shelter or move to safety – plants can’t. They need to prevent destruction by hungry insects and larger animals. They must protect themselves against sudden shifts in the weather and more gradual changes as one season blends into the next. And of course, they must make their own food!
Ways to survive the rigors of the environment are inherited by and built into each plant. Those that grow best in a desert, on a mountain, in the sea, or tangled with others in a tropical jungle, are those that are adapted to such habitats. They have inherited survival methods for those conditions.
Such methods are custom-made for each type of plant. Over millions of years they have become adapted to specific environmental conditions. As long as those conditions remain unchanged, or change very slowly, the adapted plants survive.
Survival is the principal work of all living things. For species to continue, individual members must live long enough to reproduce. By creating offspring, a plant or animal adds to the unbroken stream of life that, over billions of years, has spread over the world we live in – making our planet unique in the solar system.
The science of ecology looks closely at the relationships between plants, animals, and the environment. As our climate changes, we will need to understand as much as possible about our ecology to ensure the survival of our diverse habitats.