By Holly Giles
The common plant, plantain, has been defined as a rule breaker in a research paper published this week. It explains that the plant does not behave as one would expect in response to climate change and it is this rule breaking that has allowed it to thrive.
The research has been conducted by Dr Annabel Smith, from UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, and Professor Yvonne Buckley, from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences and Trinity College Dublin Ireland. They have co-ordinated a global team in 21 countries which have monitored the plants and their behavior.
Dr Smith explained their findings; “We were a bit shocked to find that some of the ‘rules of ecology’ simply didn’t apply to this species, Ecologists use different theories to understand how nature works — developed and tested over decades with field research — these are the so-called ‘rules’.One of these theories describes how genetic diversity or variation in genes embedded in DNA are produced by changes in population size. Small populations tend to have little genetic diversity, while large populations with many offspring, such as those with lots of seeds, have more genetic diversity. Genetic diversity sounds boring, but actually it’s the raw material on which evolution acts; more genetic diversity means plants are better able to adapt to environmental changes, like climate change. We discovered that, in their native range, the environment determined their levels of genetic diversity.But, in new environments, these rule breakers were adapting better than most other plants.”
It is currently unknown if the plantain is the only plant to respond in such a way but research by the team continues to see if these properties could belong to a wider plant group and could help predict our ecosystem with future climate change.