How warp-speed evolution is transforming ecology

Jan 31, 2018

By Rachael Lallensack

It took Timothy Farkas less than a week to catch and relocate 1,500 stick insects in the Santa Ynez mountains in southern California. His main tool was an actual stick.

“It feels kind of brutish,” says Farkas. “You just pick a stick up off the ground and beat the crap out of a bush.” That low-tech approach dislodged hordes of stick insects that the team easily plucked off the dirt.

On this hillside outside Santa Barbara, there are two kinds of bush that the stick insect (Timema cristinae) inhabits. The creature comes in two corresponding colorations: green and striped. Farkas and his fellow ecologists knew that the stick insects had evolved to blend in with their surroundings. But the researchers wanted to see whether they could turn this relationship around, so that an evolved trait — camouflage — would affect the organism’s ecology.

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