Not so good news for vegetarians...
Mustard Greens (Brassica) growing in a farm field, California, USA
The researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) studied how plants
"perceive" and "reacts" to their environment. Turns out these living things aren't as numb as we thought.
Plot twist, he's vegetarian too!
"Previous research has investigated how plants respond to acoustic energy, including music," said 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 Center at MU. "However, our work is the first example of how plants respond to an ecologically relevant vibration."
Placing caterpillars on Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, they've used a laser and a tiny piece of reflective material to observe the leaf of the plant. A set of plants were played recordings of caterpillar feeding vibration while another set wasn't. Results showed that when the caterpillar was put in both sets of plants for them to eat, the first set produced more mustard oils as a defense (apparently, caterpillars don't like this).
"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 defenses," Rex Cocroft, professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at MU, said. "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 defenses," he added.
While this may be horrifying to some who really likes eating
greens, this study is actually specifically helpful in cultivation. "Caterpillars react to this chemical defense by crawling away, so using vibrations to enhance plant defenses could be useful to agriculture," Appel said.
"This research also opens the window of plant behavior a little wider, showing that plants have many of the same responses to outside influences that animals do, even though the responses look different." Well, food's still food