Why the Avocado Should Have Gone the Way of the Dodo

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The avocado is a fruit of a different time. The plant hit its evolutionary prime during the beginning of the Cenozoic era when megafauna, including mammoths, horses, gomphotheres and giant ground sloths (some of them weighing more than a UPS truck) roamed across North America, from Oregon to the panhandle of Florida. The fruit attracted these very large animals (megafauna by definition weigh at least 100 pounds) that would then eat it whole, travel far distances and defecate, leaving the seed to grow in a new place. That’s the goal of all botanical fruits, really. Survival and growth via seed dispersal.

But the great mammals disappeared forever about 13,000 years ago in the Western Hemisphere. Around that time, North America lost 68 percent of its diverse Pleistocene megafauna, and South America lost 80 percent, Connie Barlow, author of The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, And Other Ecological Anachronisms says. But even after this major shift in the land mammal population, the wild avocado still requires the same method of seed dispersal, which makes it somewhat of an evolutionary anachronism.

“After 13,000 years, the avocado is clueless that the great mammals are gone,” Barlow explains. “Without larger mammals like the ground sloth to carry the seed far distances, the avocado seeds would rot where they’ve fallen and must compete with the parent tree for light and growth.”

A fruit with smaller seeds, like a berry, for example, can be consumed whole and dispersed by small mammals, making the chances of fruiting in a new place higher.

Written By: K. Annabelle Smith
continue to source article at blogs.smithsonianmag.com

16 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by Fritz:

      “After 13,000 years, the avocado is clueless that the great mammals are gone,” Barlow explains

      Titter… perhaps her next book will be ‘The Sentient Avocado’

      You clearly did not read The ‘Selfish’ Gene.

  1. Boy, am I glad it did not!

    As an aside, my Zulu maid was horrified when she saw me trying to get a seed to sprout.According to her people, if you plant avocados,you will soon die.I pointed out to her that I know lots of people who grow avos and are still alive to tell the tale.Also the fact that I haven’t expired yet,will probably help do away with that superstition.

    • In reply to #2 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

      Boy, am I glad it did not!

      As an aside, my Zulu maid was horrified when she saw me trying to get a seed to sprout.According to her people, if you plant avocados,you will soon die.I pointed out to her that I know lots of people who grow avos and are still alive to tell the tale.Also the fact that I…

      I wouldn’t count on it. She’s probably watching you very closely. ;-)

  2. If megafauna are those animals with a mass of 45 kg or more, then humans are an example that eat avocados. Sure, our use of sewers may prevent the seeds from going where they’re meant to; but we make up for it via agriculture.

    • In reply to #9 by Jos Gibbons:

      If megafauna are those animals with a mass of 45 kg or more, then humans are an example that eat avocados. Sure, our use of sewers may prevent the seeds from going where they’re meant to; but we make up for it via agriculture.

      A human cannot swallow and pass an avocado seed. Surely an elephant could do it.

    • In reply to #9 by Jos Gibbons:

      If megafauna are those animals with a mass of 45 kg or more, then humans are an example that eat avocados. Sure, our use of sewers may prevent the seeds from going where they’re meant to; but we make up for it via agriculture.

      If the sewers are what keep your avocado seeds from propagating new plants, you must get a LOT of fiber. ;)

  3. So… The avocado evolved to adapt to a new mammal. Us. Just as it had evolved for earlier mammals to prefer it’s fruit, it has now evolved to suit our needs. Some would call our cultivation for artificial, but that’s semantics. We do with intent what the other animals did by coincident.

    Seems reasonable.

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