SEP 7, 2014  

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the cost of sex

Sex is a very costly adventure for all species, humans included. There is a cost to find a partner, and even higher cost of having a partner. And yet, sex is close to universal mode of reproduction among all forms of life. Evolution certainly does a very good book keeping to prove sex beneficial.

from Life Ascending by Nick Lane (2009)

Plants are the most implausible of sexual organisms, yet the overwhelming majority of them are exactly that; only dandelions, along with a handful of other species, cock a snook at sex. The rest find a way, the most spectacular being the exquisite beauty of flowering plants, which swept through the world some 80 million years ago, turning the dull green forests into the magical painted glades we know today. Although they first evolved in the late Jurassic, perhaps 160 million years ago, their global takeover was long delayed, and ultimately tied to the rise of insect pollinators like bees, Flowers are pure cost to plant. They must attract pollinators with their flamboyant colours and shapes; produce sweet nectar to make such visits worthwhile (nectar is a quarter sugar by weight); and distribute themselves with finesse - not too close (or inbreeding makes sex pointless) and not too far (or the pollinators will never make it to fertilise a partner). Having settled on a pollinator of choice, the flower and pollinator evolve in tandem, each imposing costs and benefits on the other.


purple coneflower


Krešimir J. Adamić