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In Australia, a number of introduced plant species have adapted to become more like natives, a new study reveals. A full 70 percent of the 23 species of invasive plants studied showed significant changes in height as well as leaf size and shape. The surprising thing, researchers said, was not that the plants had changed, but that they had made such pronounced evolutionary strides in such a short time—less that 150 years.
The finding has serious implications—both positive and negative—for ecosystems around the world.Joanna Buswell, lead author of the study, explained:
When people brought these plants with them from Europe around 100 to 150 years ago, they unintentionally set up a great experiment by exposing the plants to very different climate conditions from the ones they were used to at home...this means that scientists are now able to study the way the plants have changed over time in response to their new environment.
The research suggests that such rapid, dramatic, evolution may be more common than was previously thought. It also gives hope that plants will be able to quickly adapt to altered growing conditions under climate change.
Unfortunately, it also suggests that invasive plants will become more problematic over time as they adapt to the unique conditions of their new home.