Monday, 23 November 2020

Evolution News - How a Medicinal Plant Evolved to Hide from Humans

Fritillaria delavayi in populations with high harvest pressure.
Photo credit: Yang Niu
Research news - Plant evolves to become less visible to humans - University of Exeter

Researchers from Exeter University and the Chinese Academy of Science Kunming Institute of Botany, have discovered that a plant, Fritillaria delavayi, used in Chinese medicine, has evolved to become harder to find and harvest.

They have shown how this example of cryptic camouflage is more prevalent in areas more heavily harvested than in areas where it is less likely to be picked.

The plant has leaves that naturally vary from grey through brown to green and only flowers when at least five years old, after which it produces a single flower each year. The bulbs are used in Chinese medicine and are harvested in the wild. Their price has escalated in recent years, increasing the selection pressure on them from human collectors.

Color Variation of Fritillaria delavayi among Populations

(A and B) Normal green individuals in populations with low harvest pressure.
(C and D) Camouflaged individuals in populations with high harvest pressure.

The team measured how well the plant matched its background and interviewed local people to find how much harvesting took place in each location. The degree of camouflage correlated closely with the amount of harvesting showing that better camouflage resulted in reduced yields. The results were published as few days ago in Current Biology, regrettably behind an expensive paywall.

It should be relatively easy to understand, even for a Creationist, that the variation which is more likely to be overlooked by collectors or which is not commercially worth searching for when other variants are easier to find, would leave more descendants, so increasing the genes for that variant in the species gene pool.

But that's the thing with a theory which is correct: it tends to be supported by the evidence, whether or not those who report the facts were deliberately trying to do so or not. The fact that this leaves no place and no role for magic or a magic deity in the process is a problem for Creationists, not for science.

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