Scientists unravel the mystery behind new plant species found in the Swiss Alps, which only took 150 years to evolve

<p>Mystery behind new plant species Cardamine insueta unravelled by researchers at the University of Zurich<br></p>UZH
  • A new plant species in the Swiss Alps dubbed Cardamine inseuta only took 150 years to evolve.
  • Researchers at the University of Zurich (UZH) believe this is because of traits C. inseuta inherited from its parent plants — each with their own distinct habitat.
  • “Depending on the environmental situation, the plant activates a different set of genes it inherited from its two parent species,” explained co-author Rei Shimizu-Inatsugi of the study published in Frontier in Genetics.
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Evolution normally takes place over several millions of years. However, in a little village nestled amid the Swiss Alps, a new planet species only took 150 years to evolve.

Named Cardamine inseuta, was first spotted in 1972 in the Urnerboden region after the land in the area went from being a forest to a grassland. Now, researchers at the University of Zurich (UZH) have narrowed down the two species of the plants that merged to create the hybrid that is thriving.

One is Cardamine amara, which grows in and around streams and the other is Cardamine rivularis, which inhabits moist, not wet, areas.

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The shift from being a forest to a grassland caused the new hybrid species to emerge. It can handle itself against temporary water level fluctuations — surviving even when there is excess water.

“It is the combination of genetic traits from its parents that enabled the new species to grow in a district environmental niche,” said Rei Shimizu-Inatsugi, co-author of the study published in Frontiers in Genetics.

The best of both worlds
C. inseuta is a so-called triploid plant. It means that it has three sets of chromosomes. Two come from C. rivularis and one set from C. amara.

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From C. rivularis, the plant’s new species got the ability to produce plantlets on the surface of its leaves. These plantlets go on to grow into new plants. The capacity for asexual vegetative reproduction has helped C. inseuta thrive since it has no other means of reproduction.

From its other parent, C. amara, the new species inherited the trait of submergence tolerance. That means that even if surrounded by water, C. inseuta would survive rather than drown.

“Depending on the environmental situation, the plant activates a different set of genes it inherited from its two parent species,” said Shimizu-Inatsugi.

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