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Country Diary: In the struggle for survival, Red Campion is a surprising battlefield

These small flowers are prone to an extraordinary parasite.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021

A wild tangle of blackberries covers this section of the escarpment next to an old railroad track. A wren scolds from the undergrowth. Drone flies flutter in the sun, spots seep through the overhanging branches of wild cherry trees. Butterflies chase through speckled shadows.

Today our tracks are heaps of red fields. It is a wonderful spectacle, although something strange happens to a lot of flowers. Where there should be stamens that shed white pollen, there is a brown, cocoa-like powder that stains the petals.

A transmitted fungal disease, a type of red campion called "Anther Blight," called Microbotryum silenes-dioicae. The microscopic threads of this parasite penetrate their host and, when they reach the stamens, replace the pollen with their spores. Visiting insects, such as the speckled forest butterfly that drinks nectar from the campiones in front of us, spread the infection to surrounding hosts. So far everything has been insidious.

But red campion plants exist as separate sexes, with the flower sex being determined by the sex chromosomes as in humans. Half of the population is female and the fungus should not be able to produce spores in these because they have no stamens.

Also read: Emma, a white rhino, was chosen from a herd of 23 rhinos, according to safari workers..

No problem the fungus changes its type of flower, suppresses the development of the ovaries and stimulates the formation of stamens and transforms them into males. This genetically agile fungus continues to evolve and mutate to parasitize other species in the Campion family. Roses) are brown in color, they too are victims of similar profanity.

Charles Darwin would certainly have felt pink from such complex adjustments in the struggle for existence. "It is interesting to think about a winding bank ..." he began in the last paragraph of his book On the Origin of Species, using the metaphor of such an embankment (with all its interacting microhabitats and species) as a backdrop for his concepts evolutionary together. There are tangled banks like this everywhere with evolutionary stories to tell, and most of them have yet to be untangled.

As Darwin concluded in his last sentence: "There is a greatness in this vision of life" in which "infinite forms ... were and develop the most wonderful”. Because it is in this microscopic anther, it hides the human eye for most of its life cycle.

The Newstalkie Bureau



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