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Poorly camouflaged insects can kick off a cascade of ecological impacts, new CU-Boulder study finds
Date:10/21/2013

-colored moths were historically able to camouflage themselves against lichen-covered tree bark in England. A darker variant of the moth existed but was more rare, since birds were able to easily spot the dark moth against the light trees. But during the industrial revolution, when soot blackened the trees, natural selection favored a darker variation of the moth, which began to flourish while the light-colored variant became less common.

Evolution on such a rapid scale opens up the possibility that the process could have ecological effects in the short term, impacting population sizes or changing the community makeup, for example.

Researchers have begun to compile examples of these "eco-evolutionary dynamics." The new study offers some of the most comprehensive evidence yet that evolution can drive ecological change.

"We have combined both experimental and observational data with mathematical modeling to show that evolution causes ecological effects and that it does so under natural conditions," Farkas said. "We also focused simultaneously on multiple evolutionary processesincluding natural selection and gene flowrather than just one, which affords us some unique insights."

Farkas and his colleaguesincluding Ilkka Hanski and Tommi Mononen, both of the University of Helsinki in Finlandfocused their attention on the walking stick Timema cristinae, which lives in Southern California. The flightless insect lives primarily on two shrubs: chamise, which has narrow, needle-like leaves; and greenbark ceanothus, which has broad, oval-shaped leaves. The variant of the walking sticks that have a white stripe down their backs are better camouflaged on the chamise, while the solid-green walking sticks are better camouflaged on the greenbark ceanothus.

The research team began by cataloguing the walking sticks living on the two types of shrubs in 186 research patches, and determined that the striped walking sticks were indeed mo
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Contact: Tim Farkas
timothy.farkas@sheffield.ac.uk
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

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Poorly camouflaged insects can kick  off a cascade of ecological impacts, new CU-Boulder study finds
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