Nav: Home

Rapid evolution helps plants disperse in disrupted environments

July 28, 2016

When a plant evolves new traits, it can get a little boost in terms of its ability to spread through a uniform landscape, and a big boost in terms of its ability to spread through a landscape that's "patchy," a new experimental study shows. The results suggest that when predicting how fast certain species -- including invasive species -- will spread, accounting for any evolutionary changes they are undergoing is critical. Among the major threats to natural and managed ecosystems today are range changes of species that result from a warming climate; invasive species - and the way they spread through ecosystems, from warming or otherwise - are another threat. Yet, scientists have only a limited understanding of the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of the spread of species through landscapes. To gain more insights, Jennifer Williams and colleagues set up populations of Arabidopsis thaliana plants in pots in either "continuous landscapes," where the pots were separated by minimal gaps, or in "patchy landscapes," with gaps that were 4, 8, or 12 times the average distance that A. thaliana is able to disperse seeds. After the plants had undergone six generations, the researchers conducted genetic analyses to determine each plant's rate of evolution. They found that, in continuous landscapes, more rapidly evolving plants spread 11% farther than their non-evolving counterparts. In contrast, when the environment was patchy (e.g., the plants were 12 times farther apart), evolving populations spread three times as far as their non-evolving counterparts. Intriguingly, genotype changes did not differ greatly whether the plants were 4-, 8- or 12-times farther apart. But, a patchy environment did correlate with plants evolving greater heights, which allowed them to disperse seeds farther. Thus greater evolution - that favors greater height and seed dispersal, in this case - drives the spread of A. thaliana, these researchers say. Whether landscape patchiness selected directly for better dispersal (or indirectly, via unmeasured traits correlated with dispersal) remains an open question, the authors note.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related Evolution Articles:

Artificial evolution of an industry
A research team has taken a deep dive into the newly emerging domain of 'forward-looking' business strategies that show firms have far more ability to actively influence the future of their markets than once thought.
Paleontology: Experiments in evolution
A new find from Patagonia sheds light on the evolution of large predatory dinosaurs.
A window into evolution
The C4 cycle supercharges photosynthesis and evolved independently more than 62 times.
Is evolution predictable?
An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama was faced with a mystery: how do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again?
Predicting evolution
A new method of 're-barcoding' DNA allows scientists to track rapid evolution in yeast.
Insect evolution: Insect evolution
Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought.
Evolution of aesthetic dentistry
One of the main goals of dental treatment is to mimic teeth and design smiles in the most natural and aesthetic manner, based on the individual and specific needs of the patient.
An evolution in the understanding of evolution
In an open-source research paper, a UVA Engineering professor and her former Ph.D. student share a new, more accurate method for modeling evolutionary change.
Chemical evolution -- One-pot wonder
Before life, there was RNA: Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich show how the four different letters of this genetic alphabet could be created from simple precursor molecules on early Earth -- under the same environmental conditions.
Catching evolution in the act
Researchers have produced some of the first evidence that shows that artificial selection and natural selection act on the same genes, a hypothesis predicted by Charles Darwin in 1859.
More Evolution News and Evolution Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at