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Daisy Chains Unshackle Evolution’s Speed Limit

The beach daisy growing on the east coast of Australia.

The beach daisy growing on the east coast of Australia. Credit: Claire Brandenburger

By Claire Brandenburger & Angela Moles

The rapid evolution of an introduced beach daisy reveals how much we underestimate the ability of plants to adapt to climate change.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

When Darwin first described evolution, it was thought to occur on timescales ranging from thousands to millions of years. But in the past 50 years it has been shown that evolution can occur much faster than that in a wide variety of plants and animals.

Many of these studies have been based on introduced species, which offer an excellent recipe for rapid evolution because they encounter different environmental conditions and interact with a whole new suite of plants, microbes and animals. Many of these introduced species thrive in their new ranges and become unwanted weeds, causing environmental and economic problems.

These weeds are also very interesting. The introduction of thousands of species to new environments has provided a giant experiment that has helped us learn a lot about evolution, ecology, genetics and more. My research has revealed what weeds can teach us about rapid evolution.

Is Rapid Evolution Common?

To answer this question, in 2011 our group used collections of dried, pressed plants as a kind of time machine to ask: “Is rapid evolution common in introduced plant species?” (http://tinyurl.com/rapid-evol). The study looked at plants that had been introduced to NSW over the past 150 years and measured how the plants had changed over time. By...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.