Evolution: The plant used in traditional Chinese medicine has become LESS visible to avoid being picked

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The benefits of being a wallflower: the plant used in traditional Chinese medicine has evolved to become LESS visible to humans to avoid being picked

  • Fritillaria delavayi is a perennial herb plant used to treat lung conditions
  • It grows and is harvested in the middle of the Hengduan Mountains of southwest China.
  • Researchers from the UK and China have studied its coloring in different areas
  • They found it became better camouflaged in areas of greater harvest
  • Humans accidentally help evolution select more visible colors










Human activity has led a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine to evolve to become less visible so that it can avoid being picked, according to a study.

Experts from the UK and China have found that Fritillaria delavayi – in areas where it is most harvested – camouflages itself better against surrounding rocks.

The results suggest that humans help select new color forms from the small flower, as better camouflaged plants have a better chance of survival.

Fritillaria delavayi is a perennial herb with leaves varying in color from green to gray or brown – and produces a single flower in its fifth year.

It has been used as a treatment for lung conditions for over two millennia, although high demand in recent years has resulted in an increase in the harvest.

Human activity has caused a plant (Fritillaria delavayi, pictured) used in traditional Chinese medicine to evolve to become less visible so it can avoid being picked, study finds

“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 evolution itself,” said article author and biologist Martin. Stevens, of the University of Exeter.

“Many plants seem to use camouflage to hide from herbivores that might eat them – but here we see camouflage evolving in response to human collectors.”

“It is possible that humans have driven the evolution of defensive strategies in other plant species, but surprisingly little research has examined this.”

In their study, Professor Stevens and his colleagues measured how well Fritillaria delavayi from different regions matched their surroundings in the Hengduan Mountains in China – and, by extension, how easy they would be to harvest.

The team also spoke with local people to estimate the amount of plant harvesting done in each of the locations they surveyed.

The researchers found that the level of camouflage in the plants appeared to correlate with harvest levels.

Additionally, in a computer tracking experiment, the team found that people took longer to spot the best camouflaged plants in the landscape.

Experts from the UK and China have found that Fritillaria delavayi - in areas where it is most harvested - camouflages itself better against surrounding rocks.  In the photo, Fritillaria delavayi in areas of poor harvest

Experts from the UK and China have found that Fritillaria delavayi - in areas where it is most harvested - camouflages itself better against surrounding rocks.  In the photo, Fritillaria delavayi in high harvest areas

Experts from the UK and China have found that Fritillaria delavayi – in areas where it is most harvested – camouflages itself better against surrounding rocks. In the photo, Fritillaria delavayi in low (left) and high (right) harvest areas

“Like other camouflaged plants that we studied, we thought that the evolution of camouflage in this fritillary was caused by herbivores, but we did not find such animals,” said the author of the Yang Niu article from the Kunming Institute of Botany, China.

“Then we realized that humans could be the reason,” added Dr Niu.

“Commercial harvest is a much stronger selection pressure than many pressures in nature,” said Hang Sun, a botanist at the Kunming Institute.

“The current state of biodiversity on earth is shaped both by nature and by ourselves. “

The full results of the study were published in the journal Current Biology.

CAMOUFLAGE TECHNIQUES USED BY PLANTS AND ANIMALS

Plants may seem passive, but they camouflage themselves just like animals, research has found.

Blending into the background helps plants protect themselves from predators and has the same benefits as the technique for animals.

They use various nifty techniques including getting like unimportant objects like stones.

Background match – it is about blending in with the colors of the shapes of the habitat where they live.

Disruptive coloring – marks that create the appearance of false edges and boundaries, making it more difficult to see the true outline.

Masquerade – look like something else; usually something that a predator might ignore, such as a stone or a twig.

Examples include living stones, some cacti, passion vines, and mistletoe.

Decoration – the accumulation of materials from the environment.

For example, some coastal and dune plants are covered with sand because of their sticky glands, making them less visible to the forms of the habitat where they live.


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