Monday, 5 October 2020

Evolution News - Evolution in Progress

Marine flatworm, Procerodes littoralis
Scientists repeat century-old study to reveal evolutionary rescue in the wild - University of Plymouth

A tiny marine flatworm, Procerodes littoralis, has shown that some species can evolve very quickly to adapt to a changing environment.

In an interesting experiment, researchers at the School of Biological and Marine Science, University of Plymouth, UK have repeated an experiment carried out 104 years earlier and shown that this flatworm had adapted to changes in salinity in its environment over the intervening years.

The first series of experiments were conducted by Dr Dorothy Jordan Lloyd, who was based at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, and focussed on individuals found in Wembury Bay, Plymouth. Dr Jordan Lloyd's results were published in 1914. She showed that there was an optimum level of salinity at which these flatworms were able to regenerate and recover from minor injuries.

There has been an idea around for the last 15 to 20 years called evolutionary rescue where, faced with rapid climate change, animals evolve to survive. Many, including myself, have doubted the possibility of such rescue, especially over such a short space of time in terms of species evolution. But this study shows it may well be possible in the wild because, in comparing two identical experiments 100 years apart, the animal has changed how it works, its physiology.

John Spicer, co-author.
Professor of Marine Zoology
University of Plymouth, UK
Repeating the same experiment in 2018, using identical techniques on the same species of flatworm obtained for the same location in Wembury Bay, the researchers found that this is no longer the case. These flatworms are now able to regenerate in much lower levels of salinity, suggesting individuals have extended their tolerance range in the intervening 104 years. Over the period 1914 to 2018, rainfall levels have increased in the Wembury Bay area resulting in reduced salinity in the intertidal zone where these flatwoms live.

The findings were published a few days ago in Marine Ecology Progress Series behind a paywall.

The flatworms have adapted to these new environmental conditions and no no longer require the previous optimal salinity in order to repair injury.

The team believe this is evidence that some species at least are able to evolve quickly as a form of 'evolutionary rescue' from rapid environmental change such as climate change over the past 104 years.

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