Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Environmental change 'triggers rapid evolution'

By Mark KinverEnvironment reporter, BBC News
Researchers were surprised how quickly the mites evolved as a result of environmental changes

Changes to their surroundings can trigger "rapid evolution" in species as they adopt traits to help them survive in the new conditions, a study shows.

Studying soil mites in a laboratory, researchers found that the invertebrates' age of maturity almost doubled in just 20-or-so generations.

It had been assumed that evolutionary change only occurred over a much longer timescale.
The findings have been published in the journal Ecology Letters.

"What this study shows for the first time is that evolution and ecology go hand-in-hand," explained co-author Tim Benton, professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds, UK.

"The implicit assumption has always been, from Darwin onwards, that evolution works on long timescale and ecology works on short timescales.

"The thinking was that if you squash a population or you change the environment then nothing will happen from an evolutionary point-of-view for generations and generations, for centuries."

Running wild
Prof Benton said that the soil mites experiment was set up to help shed light on whether the change in the size of harvested fish species, such as North Atlantic cod, was a result of an evolutionary change.

"The advantage of what we have done is that we have got free-running populations of organisms that do their own thing," he told BBC News.

The findings mean that managing populations will have to take into account evolutionary factors

"You cannot do those sort of experiment with large organisms that live in the wild."

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