Animals aren’t the only thing that’s cool

Crazy week this week, so I just wanted to post a link to this fascinating and hilarious blog post about plant communication. Yup, you heard right. Animals aren’t the only things that communicate: plants do too! But instead of using sound, plants communicate via chemicals.

First, some plants respond to hungry predators (e.g. bugs, mammalian herbivores) by producing bad-tasting or toxic chemicals that stops would-be-munchers in their tracks — this is called and “induced response” or “induced defense” and is pretty well documented in terrestrial plants. But what’s even cooler is that attacked plants might also release chemical signals to “talk” to neighbors — allowing un-munched-on plants to trigger pre-emptive defenses. Originally known as the “talking trees hypothesis,” this interplant communication was first described in the 1980’s — though more recent research suggests that “eavesdropping” might better capture the true nature of the interaction.

The “talking” seaweed Ascophyllum Nodosum, image from:

More recently and perhaps even cooler is that plants not only “talk” to each other, but to other animals! The blog post linked above describes an intertidal plant that basically calls in the predators of its predators. When the plant gets munched on, by, say, a snail, it releases a chemical signal that attracts things that eat snails, like crabs.

Crazy, and awesome. Even though I think I’ll stick with studying big furry things, plants are pretty cool.


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About ali swanson

I'm an ecologist studying how large carnivores coexist. I spend way too much of my time trying to stop hyenas and elephants from munching my camera traps!

2 responses to “Animals aren’t the only thing that’s cool”

  1. elfinelvin says :

    PBS did a Nature show called “What Plants Talk About.” It really is a fascinating subject. Maybe Tolkien wasn’t too far off the mark with his tree ents.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The Science of Tree Communication | lilianausvat - December 23, 2013

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