"Flowers Are Evolving to Have Less Sex"

"As the number of bees and other pollinators falls, field pansies are adapting by fertilizing their own seeds, a new study found."

"Every spring, trillions of flowers mate with the help of bees and other animals. They lure the pollinators to their flowers with flashy colors and nectar. As the animals travel from flower to flower, they take pollen with them, which can fertilize the seeds of other plants.

A new study suggests that humans are quickly altering this annual rite of spring. As toxic pesticides and vanishing habitats have driven down the populations of bees and other pollinators, some flowers have evolved to fertilize their own seeds more often, rather than those of other plants.

Scientists said they were surprised by the speed of the changes, which occurred in just 20 generations. “That’s rapid evolution,” said Pierre-Olivier Cheptou, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Montpellier in France who led the research.

Dr. Cheptou was inspired to carry out the study when it became clear that bees and other pollinators were in a drastic decline. Would flowers that depend on pollinators for sex, he wondered, find another way to reproduce?"

Carl Zimmer reports for the New York Times January 4, 2024.

Source: NYTimes, 01/05/2024