A plant used in traditional Chinese medicine has evolved to be less visible to humans, new research shows.
Scientists have found that plants of Fritillaria delavayi, which live on the rocky slopes of the Hengduan Mountains in China, are more like their surroundings in areas where they are heavily harvested.
This suggests that humans are “pushing” the evolution of this species into new color forms 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 is remarkable how humans can have such a direct and dramatic impact on the coloring 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 campus. Penryn from Exeter, reports Eureka Alert.
“Many plants seem to use camouflage to hide from herbivores who may eat them, but here we see camouflage evolving 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 well 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 was done each time. place.
They found that the level of plant camouflage correlated with harvest levels.
In a computer experiment, the more camouflaged plants also took longer to be detected by humans.
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 fritillary bulb has been used in Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years, and high prices in recent years have resulted in increased harvests.
“Like other camouflaged plants that we studied, we thought that the camouflage evolution of this fritillary was carried out by herbivores, but we did not find such animals,” said Dr Yang Niu of the Kunming Institute of Botany. “Then we realized humans might be the reason.”
Kunming Institute of Botany Professor Hang Sun 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 journal Current Biology, is titled: “Commercial Harvest Fueled the Evolution of Camouflage in an Alpine Plant.”