This Chinese Plant Evolves To Be Invisible To Humans For Survival

Dhir Acharya - Nov 26, 2020


This Chinese Plant Evolves To Be Invisible To Humans For Survival

In the rocky Hengduan mountains, there Is a perennial herb named Fritillaria delavayi, whose color varies from brown to grey to green.

In the rocky Hengduan mountains, there Is a perennial herb named Fritillaria delavayi, whose color varies from brown to grey to green. It also produces a bright yellow flower after five years of growth.

But like other plants, Fritillaria delavayi has been harvested by humans to make Chinese medicine. Over the past 2000 years, the bulb of this species has been used in treating ailments of the lungs at a high price, which makes people harvest it more and more.

The original colors of Fritillaria delavayi
The original colors of Fritillaria delavayi

Now, according to a new paper, this species has developed an unusual pattern because of humans: with increasing harvesting, Fritillaria delavayi has become nearly invisible to survive.

A team of international botanists measures multiple things about this species. First of all, the team looked at how the varying population of this flower matches their environment and how easy it was to collect them. Next, they spoke to local people to estimate how much of the species was harvested in those locations.

They found that the flower’s invisibility correlated with the levels of harvesting. In addition, a computer experiment showed that plants with more camouflage were harder for people to detect, helping them increase the chance of survival.

Fritillaria delavayi
It turns brown and blends into the surrounding environment

In areas with more intense harvesting, Fritillaria delavayi evolved to get brown and grey flowers and leaves, making them less easy to detect by pickers. The leave color had also matched the surrounding to make the plant overall invisible.

Meanwhile, in areas too high for harvesters to visit regularly, the plant remained green leaves and yellow flowers, their original colors, according to Phys.

Professor Martin Stevens stated this evolution was extraordinary, saying:

“It's remarkable to see how humans can have such a direct and dramatic impact on the coloration of wild organisms, not just on their survival but on their evolution itself.”

“Many plants seem to use camouflage to hide from herbivores that may eat them—but here we see camouflage evolving in response to human collectors. It's possible that humans have driven evolution of defensive strategies in other plant species, but surprisingly little research has examined this.”

Fritillaria delavayi
In areas with little harvesting, the plant maintains its original colors

At the same time, professor Hang Sun said that commercial harvesting puts much larger selection pressure on species than other natural pressures. The professor added that the current biodiversity status we see on the Earth is generated by both natural and humans.

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