Monday, April 10, 2023

"Plant Talk"

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Biodiversity, Evolutionary Biology, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

It has been observed that some plants make ultrasonic clicks when thirsty or stressed. The two plants that had their stems cut and listened to were tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and tomato (Solanum lycopersicum).

When they needed water or had their stems cut, they made ~ 25 clicks per hour while those with sufficient water and uncut made ~ 1 click per hour. NatureNews provides a summary of a paper published in Cell (linked). Because the sounds are "so high-pitched that very few humans could hear them. Some animals, however, probably can. Bats, mice and moths could potentially live in a world filled with the sounds of plants, and previous work has found that plants respond to sounds made by animals." (underline mine).

Liach Hadany, Tel Aviv University describes the sounds. "'It is a bit like popcorn ---- very short clicks. It is not singing."

Emma Marris who wrote the short article describes the current hypothesis that causes the sound, notes that other plants also make noises when thirsty, e.g., wheat (Triticum aestivum), corn (Zea mays) and wine grapes (Vitis vinifera), research on "whether plants can 'hear' sounds, and found that beach evening primroses (Oenothera drummondii) release sweeter nectar when exposed to the sound of a flying bee, and the lack of clarity about whether "plant noises an important feature of ecosystems, influencing the behavior of plants and animals (are) alike".

Retired biologist Graham Pyke (Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia) shares his skepticism about the importance of plant sounds in ecosystems. Emma Marris wrote that "he thinks the sounds would be too faint" to draw much attention.

Marris's report includes a recording of the sounds which have been processed to make them audible to us.  It is 36 s long.

Here is Marris's reporting. I also suggest as I always do that you take a cursory look at the paper in Cell for more information as well as to compare the headline in Nature News with the original paper and, of course, the  title I use for this posting.
This is also a good story on how scientists take advantage of new technology. 
I wrote a draft the day that it was a feature in Nature News. I was really pleased when a real evolutionary biologist--Jerry Coyne -- featured and discussed this paper on WEIT (April 4, 2023). WEIT is the acronym for his website "Why Evolution Is True."
I urge, strongly urge, you take advantage of Dr. Coyne's informed discussion which includes many quotes from the paper as well as other relevant information on interpreting the evidence, etc.


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