Chinese scientists discover that a traditional plant has evolved to become less visible to humans where it is harvested the most
The pressure on plants from humans induces them to gradually adopt measures to face this threat. This has been proven in the case of a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine, which has evolved to become less visible to humans and somehow manage to ‘hide’ from them, according to a study that has just been published in Current Biology.
Plants Fritillaria delavayi, living on the rocky slopes of China’s Hengduan Mountains, end up pampering more with their environment in those areas where their specimens are collected with great intensity, according to the research findings.
Evolution towards new colors
This fact 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 Kunming Institute of Botany (Chinese Academy of Sciences) and the University of Exeter. It has been made known in an article, published in the magazine Current Biology, which is titled: “Commercial harvest has fueled the evolution of camouflage in an alpine plant.”
“It is remarkable to see how humans can have such a direct and dramatic impact on the coloration of wild organisms, not just in their survival but in their own evolution, ‘said Professor Martin Stevens of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter’s Penryn campus, reports Eureka Alert.
Adapt to herbivores … and people
“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 there is still little research on this.”
In the study, the researchers measured the degree to which these plants were easy to collect and spoke with locals to estimate how much collection took place at each location. In this way, found that the level of camouflage in the plants was correlated with harvest levels.
In a computer experiment, it was observed that the more camouflaged plants also took longer to be detected by people.
Fritillaria delavayi It is a perennial herb that has leaves, which vary in color from gray to brown to green, at an early age and produces only one flower per year after the fifth year. The fritillary species bulb 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 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 other pressures found in nature.” The current state of biodiversity on earth is determined both by nature and by ourselves.