Saturday, January 19, 2008

Weeds flourish as climate changes – and provides a speedy view of evolution in action

Not everybody hates weeds. An arborologist I know grouses that "weed" and "invasive species" are just terms of abuse for plants that adapt better to a wider range of environments. Fast, flexible, resourceful, weeds can outproduce and outreproduce wimpier species. Which is not to say that they play havoc with gardeners, farmers and other who struggle to make nature behave in a certain way.

The Orange County Register profiles some scientists at the University of California at Irvine who are studying the impacts of drought on one weed, the mustard plant. Along the way they illustrated a telling example of natural selection at work -- a double play!: ..."Climate change could result in a big increase in the number of weedy species growing in our natural habitats – to the detriment of slower-evolving, longer-lived native species, like the redwood," said Arthur Weis, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Irvine and one of the authors of the study.

Along with loss of habitat, the spread of aggressive, nonnative species into sensitive habitat regions is a major concern for biologists seeking to preserve plant and animal diversity worldwide....

Photo of brassica rapa, the mustard plant, from, by Steven Dewey, Utah State University,

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