Fritillaria delavayi is a plant that evolves to become less visible to humans
A plant used in the traditional medicine China has evolved to become less visible for humans, new research shows.
The scientists discovered than Fritillaria delavayi plants, which live on the rocky slopes of the Hengduan Mountains of China, they more closely resemble their surroundings in areas where they are harvested a lot.
This suggests that humans are “driving” the evolution of this species towards new forms of color because better camouflaged plants have a greater chance of survival.
The study was conducted by the Institute of Kunming Botany (Chinese Academy of Sciences) and the University of Exeter.
It is remarkable to see how humans can have such a direct and dramatic impact on the coloration of wild organisms, not only on their survival but on their own evolution, “said Professor Martin Stevens of the Center for Ecology and Conservation on the Penryn campus. Exeter, reports Eureka Alert.
Many plants appear to use camouflage to hide from herbivores that can eat them, but here we see that camouflage evolves in response to human foragers.
Humans may have driven the evolution of defensive strategies in other plant species, but surprisingly little research has examined this. “
In the new study, the researchers measured how closely plants from different populations matched their mountainous surroundings and how easy they were to collect, and they spoke with local people to estimate how much collection took place at each location.
They found that the level of camouflage on the plants was correlated with harvest levels.
In a computer experiment, the more camouflaged plants also took longer to be detected by people.
Fritillaria delavayi is a perennial herb that has leaves, which vary in color from gray to brown to green, at a young age and produces only one flower per year after the fifth year.
The bulb of the fritillary species has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years, and the high prices of recent years have led to increased harvesting.
Like other camouflaged plants we have studied, we thought that the camouflage evolution of this fritillary had been driven by herbivores, but we did not find such animals, “said Dr. Yang Niu of the Kunming Institute of Botany.” Then we realized that humans could be the reason. “
Professor Hang Sun of the Kunming Institute of Botany added: “Commercial harvesting is a much stronger selection pressure than many pressures from nature.” The current state of biodiversity on earth is determined both by nature and by ourselves. “
The article, published in the revista Current Biology, is entitled: “Commercial harvest has driven the evolution of camouflage in an alpine plant”.
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