ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A team from RIT, led by Associate Professor Kaitlin Stack Whitney, is part of the world’s largest study on environmental evolution. The study was published this week in the journal “Science,” and showed that samples of white clover, had adapted the same way in cities across the world.

That tough weed found on roadsides in the Finger Lakes and in fields, which is native to Europe and Asia, has since spread across the world. Its ubiquity made it perfect for the study, as well as its hardy nature.

In short, the study concluded that white clover in downtown Rochester was more similar in adaptation to clover in a city in Europe or in Asia, compared to a clover ten miles down Route 33A.

The route and samples that the team took

The team at RIT many samples on Route 33A to gather the clover samples. They chose this route because of the straightness of the road transitioning from downtown to an area outside of the city.

“Cities are actually driving evolution differently than for example, in rural areas,” said Stack Whitney. “(Not only) do we find habitat loss with urbanization, but actually finding that the growth of cities is actually potentially changing the genetics of these particular plant communities.”

A closeup look at white clover

The study actually began when scientists in Toronto put out a tweet saying that they were looking for scientists around the world to participate in the study. That was in 2018. All told, 300 scientists took part, including students at RIT, and had to keep it secret.

“I did this with five students who are now graduated RIT,” said Stack Whitney. “It takes so long and now that they’re not here, (I can’t) congratulate them in person! But that’s the most exciting thing is that we did back in the fall of 2018. And we were able to analyze our Rochester-specific results that winter and spring.”

A member of the RIT team gathering the clover