Scientists have gained new insight into how plants respond to their environment - and the findings may surprise you.
As we recently reported, a study published in the journal Current Biology has suggested that plants can plan for their own future. According to a report from CS Monitor, researchers have shown that pea plants can make decisions based on the level of available nutrients in their environment.
The findings of the study are significant; this marks the first time a plant has shown a response to external risk factors. The study showed that plants will make decisions about growth based on the available resources, and will avoid putting themselves in a situation where nutrients and water might be scarce somewhere down the line.
According to researcher Alex Kacelnik of Oxford University, “To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of an adaptive response to risk in an organism without a nervous system.”
Scientists grew pea plants with their roots split between two pots; one of which had higher levels of nutrients. They were amazed to find that the plants actively chose the pots with more nutrients present, and focused root growth here while avoiding the pots with lower levels of nutrients.
As a control, they observed plant behavior with levels of nutrients that were the same overall, but fluctuated from day to day. They found that the plants much preferred the pots with consistent levels of nutrients to those with fluctuating levels.
So what does this study tell us about plants? While they don’t make decisions in the same sense as humans, they are clearly equipped with a system that allows them to respond to shifts in their environment. The findings reveal that plants are less passive than once believed; their response system is surprisingly complex.
According to Hagai Shemesh of Tel-Hai College in Israel, “To see that decision-making models developed by economists for human decision makers and by zoologists to understand animal behavior can predict the behavior of plants facing similar choices is fascinating.”
A press release describing the details of the study can be found here.