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Plants Can Hear Themselves Being Eaten

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Plants Can Hear Themselves Being Eaten

Bad news for vegetarians and vegans, because scientists have just discovered that plants can 'hear' themselves being eaten.

Researchers at the University of Missouri found that plants can identify sounds nearby - including the sounds made when people eat - and react accordingly.

The idea that plants can react to sound has been around for a while, with some gardeners claiming that playing music to their plants help them grown and our first in line to the throne, Prince Charles, once saying: "I just come and talk to the plants, really - very important to talk to them, they respond."

However, Heidi Appel, senior research scientist in the Division of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Bond Life Sciences Centre at MU said that this new study is 'the first example of how plants respond to an ecologically relevant vibration.'


She told the Daily Mail: "We found that "feeding vibrations" signal changes in the plant cells' metabolism, creating more defensive chemicals that can repel attacks from caterpillars."

The study placed caterpillars on small plants called Arabidopsis and then used a laser and a piece of reflective material to measure movement of the leaf in response to the munching caterpillar. They then played back the recordings of the caterpillars feeding vibrations to one set of plants and played silence to an other. Later, when the caterpillars were one again placed on both sets of plants to feed, it was found that the plants that had been forced to listen to the sound of caterpillars eating were now producing more mustard oils, a chemical that the bugs don't usually like. Clever.

Credit: PA


Rex Cocroft, professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at MU who also worked on the study said: "What is remarkable is that the plants exposed to different vibrations, including those made by a gentle wind or different insect sounds that share some acoustic features with caterpillar feeding vibrations did not increase their chemical defences.

"This indicates that the plants are able to distinguish feeding vibrations from other common sources of environmental vibration.

"Plants have many ways to detect insect attack, but feeding vibrations are likely the fastest way for distant parts of the plant to perceive the attack and begin to increase their defences."

Appel added: "This research also opens the window of plant behaviour a little wider, showing that plants have many of the same responses to outside influences that animals do, even though the responses look different."

Featured Image Credit: The Simpsons/Fox/PA

Claire Reid
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