Evolution drives how fast plants could migrate with climate change
New research from the University of British Columbia suggests evolution is a driving mechanism behind plant migration, and that scientists may be underestimating how quickly species can move.
|Seeds are ready to disperse from the Arabidopsis thaliana plant in a greenhouse|
[Credit: Frida Feijen and Nicky Lustenhouwer]
"We know from previous research that evolution might play a role in how fast a species can move across a region or continent," said Jennifer Williams, the study's lead author and an assistant professor in UBC's department of geography. "But what our study suggests is that evolution is not only a factor in movement, but that it can, in fact, accelerate the spread, and can do so predictably."
For the study, researchers used a small flowering plant (Arabidopsis thaliana), a common model organism in plant biology, to test the role of evolution in plant migration. Individual plants with different traits were cultivated together to create two sets of populations, one in which evolution was acting and another in which evolution was stopped.
|Evolving plant populations spread 200 percent farther in landscapes like this where conditions were|
more challenging for plants to disperse seeds [Credit: Jonathan Levine]
The findings suggest that evolution accelerates the speed of migration, said Williams.
However, more research is needed to determine why the researchers saw a larger effect of evolution under the more challenging conditions, which in this case increased the speed of movement.
|Evolving plant populations dispersed seeds and migrated 11 percent farther in landscapes |
with favorable conditions, as shown here [Credit: Jonathan Levine]
Williams said the findings underscore the importance for scientists to account for evolutionary change when predicting how quickly native species will be able to move as the Earth's climate continues to warm.
Source: University of British Columbia [July 28, 2016]