Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pssst, Lookout! - Plants 'Chatter' To Warn Each Other Of Danger

If you've ever had one of those strange, passing thoughts about whether or not a carrot screams when it is ripped out of the ground, maybe you shouldn't read this story :

Plants chatter amongst themselves to spread information, a lot like humans and other animals, new research suggests.

A unique internal network apparently allows greens to warn each other against predators and potential enemies.

Many herbal plants such as strawberry, clover, reed and ground elder naturally form a set of connections to share information with each other through channels known as runners—horizontal stems that physically bond the plants like tubes or cables along the soil surface and underground. Though connected to vertical stems, runners eventually form new buds at the tips and ultimately form a network of plants.

“Network-like plants do not usually produce vertical stems but their stems lie flat on the ground and can hence be used as network infrastructure,” said researcher Josef Stuefer from the Radboud University in the Netherlands.

Here is how it works: If one of the network plants is attacked by caterpillars, the other members of the network are warned via an internal signal to upgrade their chemical and mechanical resistance—making their leaves hard to chew on and less desirable. This system works to spread the information amongst the plants and to ward off caterpillars.

“This is an early warning system, very much like in military defense, but then more effective: each member of the network can receive the external signal of impending herbivore danger and transmit it to the other members of the network,” Stuefer said. The attacked leaf is lost. However, the remaining leaves are protected against predators.

Weird, but fascinating.

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