Sunday, June 14, 2009
The Secret Life Of Plants
I found this interesting article about plant behavior.
No brainer behavior
Messages, memory, maybe even intelligence — botanists wrangle over how far plants can go
By Susan Milius
June 20th, 2009; Vol.175 #13 (p. 16)
NO BRAINER BEHAVIOR Plants move. Time-lapse photography reveals the circular sweep of a Lonicera japonica vine during two hours of growth. But an evolving definition of plant behavior doesn't even require motion. Plants can behave while staying still. Ash Kaushesh and Katherine Larson.
In a somewhat different world, Consuelo M. De Moraes would be revolutionizing vampire fiction.
Her lab at Penn State University studies predators that entangle prey in a tight embrace, pierce victims’ tissue and suck out nourishment. In the last few years, De Moraes and her colleagues have found that the predators even hunt down prey by scent.
Creepy as her predator, Cuscuta pentagona,(pictured) is, it is also, frankly, a plant. Better known as five-angled dodder, its orange tentacles bypass the porcelain throats of young women in favor of the slim stems of young tomato plants. De Moraes and other researchers are showing that plants behave and misbehave as dramatically as animals. But there’s still not much hope for a feature-length dodder movie.
And as plant scientists relish pointing out, some plants do move in animal time, especially those that hunt animals for food. When it lands inside the open jaws of a Venus flytrap, a fly may jog trigger hairs. An electrical signal zaps through the plant tissue and the two sides of the trap can close like a book in less than a second. And a water flea that bumbles into a little cup of a bladderwort likewise confronts the peril of touch-sensitive triggers. A trapdoor opens within 30 milliseconds, and the flea whooshes down into a digestive chamber.
No insects are harmed when white mulberry trees bloom, but the Morus alba flowers open with a quick puff of yellow pollen. In a lab setup, a team of aerosol specialists at Caltech found the mulberry flower’s parts moving at speeds exceeding Mach 0.5. Pollen flinging could thus be the fastest biological movement yet observed, the team reported in 2006, and team member James House says he’s not aware of any challenges since...."
Motion is not necessary in behavioe “Behavior,” they proposed, applies to “what a plant or animal does, in the course of an individual’s lifetime, in response to some event or change in its environment.” This concept does not include intent, the team wrote, and Karban concurs. “Even in people, determining intent is very difficult,” he says.
This motion-free, intent-free definition allows the concept of behavior to embrace an activity in which plants excel: releasing chemical bursts, says plant community ecologist Kerry Metlen of the University of Montana in Missoula. Plants secrete secondary metabolites, chemicals that go beyond the basics of metabolism. These substances can prospect for food, wage war and call for reinforcements, all the while gossiping in chemical detail. “Plants are prodigious chemists,” Metlen says....
"...Even plants less vampirish than Cuscuta vines forage strategically for their food, and there’s evidence that plants fight each other over resources. In a broad sense of the word, plants communicate — some essentially scream for help. Also, a plant can respond to stimuli depending on its history of previous experiences, a tendency Karban is willing to call a sign of memory...."
The discussion continues to indicate that the leaking of sap alerts the specific predator that the specific insect is attacking.it is also thought the surrounding plants may also contribute to attempts to answer the call for help.
There is also a discussion of warfare among certain types of plants....Who knew?...
Full article here: