For years, scientists have struggled to explain how the humble eggplant spread across the continent of Africa and subsequently moved up into Europe. Unlike other crops throughout history, there wasn’t a clear or obvious trade path it could’ve taken to travel the distances and the zany routes that it accomplished. This week, a new study in Science Daily was published with a pretty convincing hypothesis.
Can you take a guess?
It's all about the elephants. (And the impalas, too!)
From the study:
Some of the African wild relatives of the eggplant have extremely wide distributions -- Solanum campylacanthum occurs all along the eastern part of the continent, from Kenya to South Africa. During the investigation of the factors that could explain this pattern, it turned out that this could have something to do with the dispersion of the seeds. The African elephant and the impala, both inhabitants of African savannahs and with historical distribution ranges that encompass the continent, are both known to eat the fruits and disperse the seeds of these wild eggplant relatives.
But this is much more than a fun anecdote on how crucial elephants are to the ecosystem! According to the same study, the reason that the eggplant once covered such large swaths of territory is now threatening to limit it. Currently, the loss of elephant habitat is easily linked to the loss of eggplant.
"If we want to secure eggplant production by tapping into the gene-pool of its wild relatives we have to protect African elephant populations," researcher Péter Poczai told Science Daily.
As if protecting elephants wasn't enough of a motivation in and of itself, you're now also protecting your great-grandmother's Pasta Alla Norma everytime you speak up for our favorite mammals.