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Evolution of the Shetland Monkey Flower

Shetland Monkey Flower

A new type of monkey flower has been discovered growing on the road side near the small village of Quarff on the Shetland Isles, by a group of research scientists led by Associate Professor Dr Mario Vallejo-Marin from the University of Stirling.

Monkey flower colonised the wider countryside along with many other non-native species of plant after being introduced to the British Isles by the Victorians. However, what makes the non-native species of monkey flower discovered growing on the Shetland Isles unusual and unique, is due to the fact that it has evolved through doubling the number of it’s chromosomes - a process called genome duplication or polyploidy.

Following its chance discovery, samples of the Shetland monkey flower, in addition to samples of other monkey flower populations from the Shetland Isles and from the UK mainland, were collected and grown for further generic analysis under controlled, laboratory conditions. The samples were then compared for their floral and vegetative characteristics, in addition to an analysis of their genetics.

Mainland Monkey Flower

In terms of it’s physical appearance, the Shetland monkey flower bares a very close resemblance to it’s mainland cousin (pictured left), with the exception of it’s flowers, which are more open and larger than it’s smaller mainland relative. The findings of the research, which were published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, are significant because they demonstrate that evolution in non-native species can take place over a very short period of time, in this case approximately two hundred years, rather than thousands of years. In addition, the study is also significant by virtue of the fact that polyploidy in the Shetland monkey flower occurred in the absence of hybridisation, which is of particular interest to research scientists.

Clearly the results of the study will continue to be of intense interest to the scientific and conservation community, because genome duplication typically results in larger, stronger plants, which equips such populatins to play a greater role in biological processes.

This blog was informed by research undertaken by the University of Stirling, which was also reported by the BBC in August 2017.

Image Credit: Shetland Times & TETRIX Ecology

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