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Bright green doesn’t seem like the best choice for camouflage. But the image of a vibrant green stick insect, Timema poppensis, perched almost invisibly atop the matching leaves of its host, a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), provides visual support to the idea that color is a key part of coevolution, an ecological process in which two or more species develop together.
This image, which is the winner of the open-access publisher BioMed Central’s Ecology Image Competition 2012, was picked in large part because of its ability to illustrate this natural process. “Many of the images submitted were visually stunning,” said Yan Wong, a member of the editorial board who helped select among the entries in photography or data visualization from people at research institutions across the globe, in a press release. “This wasn't simply a search for an amazing picture, however. Just as important were the ecological processes depicted. Ideally, images should immediately hint at one or more ecological processes,” Wong said.
Moritz Muschick’s photograph of T. poppensis and S. sempervirens did just that. This vibrant green insect is one example of a species that, over time, adapted to live on very different host plants at a variety of elevations. Today scientists look at Timema’s DNA to study how different forms of coloring or camouflage affect speciation.