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Health.-A plant used in traditional Chinese medicine has evolved to become less visible to humans

11/19/2020 Fritillaria delavayi.  HEALTH YANG NIU 11/19/2020 Fritillaria delavayi. HEALTH YANG NIU

MADRID, 23 (EUROPA PRESS)

A plant used in traditional Chinese medicine has evolved to become less visible to humans, according to new research from the Kunming Institute of Botany, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the University of Exeter, UK, published in the journal ‘Current Biology’.

Scientists found that ‘Fritillaria delavayi’ plants, which live on the rocky slopes of China’s Hengduan Mountains, more closely resemble their background in areas where they are heavily harvested.

This suggests that humans are “pushing” the evolution of this species towards new forms of color because better camouflaged plants have a greater chance of survival.

“It is remarkable to see how humans can have such a direct and dramatic impact on the coloration of wild organisms, not only on their survival but on their own evolution,” says Professor Martin Stevens, of the Center for Ecology and Conservation on campus. Penryn of Exeter – Many plants appear to use camouflage to hide from herbivores that can 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,” he says.

In the study, the researchers measured how well plants from different populations matched their mountainous surroundings and how easy they were to collect, and spoke with local people to estimate how much collection took place at each location. Thus, they discovered that the level of camouflage in the plants was correlated with the harvest levels.

In a computer experiment, the more camouflaged plants also took longer to be detected by people. The ‘Fritillaria delavayi’ is a perennial herb that has leaves that 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 bulb of the ‘fritillary’ species has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years, and the high prices of recent years have led to increased harvesting.

“Like other camouflaged plants we’ve studied, we thought the camouflage evolution of this fritillary had been driven by herbivores, but we didn’t find such animals,” says Dr. Yang Niu of the Kunming Institute of Botany. we realized that humans could be the reason. “

Professor Hang Sun of the Kunming Institute of Botany adds that “commercial harvesting is a much stronger selection pressure than many pressures from nature. The current state of biodiversity on earth is determined by both nature and by ourselves”.