The new findings, based on research carried out at the University of Colorado Boulder, illustrate the ability of rapid evolution to cause a cascade of ecological impacts.

The scientists found that a walking stick insect that is not well camouflaged is more likely to be eaten by birds, and in turn, those birds are then also more likely to feast on the spiders, caterpillars, plant hoppers, ants and other arthropods living on the same plant. The resulting overall reduction in bugs living on the plant also means that the plant itself was less likely to be attacked by sap-feeding insects.

“Our study shows that the evolution of poor camouflage in one species can affect all the other species living there and affect the plant as well,” said Tim Farkas, lead author of the study published in the journal Current Biology. “It’s intuitive, but also really surprising.”