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.
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.