# We Have Successfully Established Plants and Insects on Mars. How Long Will It Take Them to Colonize the Entire Planet?

In my last question, I have asked on how, once Mars has been terraformed, Terran species of plants and the insects on which the majority of them rely on would adapt to Mars's longer year. By far, the only answer I got is to start the pioneering at the equator, where there won't be any seasons to worry about, and the plants can grow, blossom and be pollinated by insects without problem.

But Earth-based plants on Martian soil can't stay in the equator forever!

This question is particularly important not just here, but in any terraforming project involving dumping Earth-based species on any Earth-like habitable rock orbiting a star of any type from a distance greater than one AU (basically speaking, any orbit so far away that one year lasts more than 365 days.) Once the plants and insects have been established at Mars's lower latitudes, how long would it take them to colonize as much of the rest of the planet as they can?

This is not a question that involves evolution, which would take too long. The reason I'm focusing on the plants and insects is due to their interconnected relationships, and how the other animals rely on them as well.

• I think the answer to this depends on how exactly the terraforming is done, and what Mars is like after. Since there is no one answer to "what does terraformed Mars look like" it is pretty hard to answer a question about its ecosystem. – Willk Sep 11 '19 at 0:09
• What does your terraformed Mars look like? I mean in terms of oceans, lakes, rivers, jet stream, trade winds, Hadley cells and rain distribution. Then we'd need to know about seasons and variations of environmental conditions by longitude. Are there ice-caps? – Tantalus' touch. Sep 11 '19 at 1:44
• There are dozens of schemes on this site alone. Plus Elon Musk. If you have a particular one in mind, please link it up. – Willk Sep 11 '19 at 2:01
• Many plants are spread by animals and birds, not insects. Some can't produce viable seeds unless they've passed through an animal's digestive system, so it would depend a great deal also on what particular plants you are referring to - in some cases the plants simply wouldn't spread at all. – Tantalus' touch. Sep 11 '19 at 2:32
• This feels far too broad, especially if you refuse to settle on what the terraformed Mars is going to look like. We could likewise argue that as a part of the terraforming process, plant and insect life would need to be spread out over the planet to ensure the planet is habitable in the first place. So it will take as long as the terraforming process for plants and insects to colonize the world. – Shadowzee Sep 11 '19 at 5:28

Depending on what you mean by 'Terraformed', anywhere from 100 years to more.

Your terraforming process needs to have not just converted the composition of the atmosphere to a similar composition to Earth, but to also:

• Ensured the phosphates in the soil are removed
• Ensured the planet has a similar atmospheric pressure
• Ensure constant rainfall (but not too much) throughout the planet
• Ensure the soil has a sufficient quantity of nitrates
• Ensure radiation is no longer flooding the surface, whilst retaining a high enough light level for plants to survive.

If the above is miraculously accomplished using Clarktech, then the only similar examples we have on Earth are newly formed volcanic islands.

Studies have indicated the slow growth rate of plants to both travel to the destination, and also to then root themselves and germinate at precisely the right conditions.

The following can be expected:

• first you may need microbes to grow on the surface - these may aid the chemical degradation of the rock and sand to form soil.
• you would require wind to carry microbes, and seeds across the landscape
• normally lichens are the first to grow, as they require little purchasing points and nutrients, however, keep in mind it may take up to 100 years for lichen to grow to the size of a 30mm circle.
• if conditions are perfectly right, however, some plants would grow after a year on a volcanic island. Every island example is different, and on Mars it should be expected that given the extreme environment it wouldn't be this quick (and if it was it would be sporadic, in cracks or isolated areas), however this is rare and some volcanic islands that were formed some time ago are still barren.

• Actually, as the link suggests, my first order of business was to start with the equator, where there wouldn't be any seasons. That was why I asked this question. – JohnWDailey Sep 12 '19 at 2:38
• You seem to assume that terraformed Mars resembles a patch of cooled, but geologically fresh lava rock. But Mars already has a granular (sandy) soil capable of absorbing and storing water. Most of the limitations of fresh volcanic islands don't apply to Marsian soil (assuming it has been terraformed). – Elmy Sep 12 '19 at 16:37

Don't expect it to happen anytime soon (100's of years). Skeptical answer is to expect it (complete terraforming of Mars) to not happen at all.

As per Wikipedia and Space.com

• the atmosphere of Mars is 95% carbon dioxide (== no oxygen)

• atmosphere is 100 times thinner than earth (== no air)

• Average temperature at equator of atmospher is 5 degree centigrade (== most species can not survive / reproduce fast)

• water vapour is a trace gas (== a remnant that won't support active life)

So outside of a controlled environment (say closed gas chamber with right conditions provided), very little growth is to be expected, even if you were to use mutated species.

Add to that logistical complexities such as

• growing plants in space (a seed germinated, but germination != tree)

• conducting experiments in space/mars - no man even landed on mars yet

• Earth took ~1.3 billion years to have all this oxygen and other composition of gases available

And this sounds almost impossible in human lifetimes.

Instead, you can expect setting up of closed terraforming sites which are self-sufficient to be the more prominent way for inter galactic expansion of humanity.

Any living organism will adapt to the environment where it live via evolution, and that implies genetic changes. And that takes quite some time. Also in your case, since you are porting "bees and flowers" to an alien world, evolution will take its time and paths.

You can speed things up by increasing the mutation rate of all the organisms, and let then evolution play its game as usual.

In this answer of mine I explain how this has been done for developing new types of crops, using gamma fields.

Since insects produce large number of eggs each time, the method seems suitable for them, too.

Thus:

• irradiate a subset of them to induce mutation
• let them grow and see if there are any useful mutation
• select the mutation and start over

Since, on a first approximation, evolution rate is directly proportional to the mutation rate, by increasing the mutation rate of a factor $$\alpha$$ you are also reducing the time to adapt by the same factor.

Considering that insects can have more generations in one year, you can speed up the process a lot.

• If you click on the link, you'd realize I don't do genetic engineering. – JohnWDailey Sep 11 '19 at 10:09
• @JohnWDailey, as I commented you there, adaptation to the environment happens via genetic changes, that you like it or not. – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 11 '19 at 10:21

assuming you have engineered mars to be the atmospheric composition as earth, so we don't have to worry about plants dying in a newly seeded place it is a fairly easy math problem.

Lets say seeds spread about 1.5 meters from the parent plant. we start with a single plant. the surface of mars is 2106 miles, or 3389278 meters.

an equation of 1.5(x^2) - 3389278 = 0 will solve the timeline until plants cover mars, including the poles and polar regions.

it will take 1,503 seasons if plants propagate once a growing season. feel free to fiddle with the numbers to exclude poles or deal with the equator which will have a better growing region than the rest of the planet.