Researchers at the University of Missouri found that plants can identify sounds in their environment and enact defense mechanisms accordingly.
The team ran a study on the effects plants have while being eaten and the conclusion is pretty astounding.
When Arabidopsis (a small flowering plant in the cabbage and mustard plant family) heard the crunch of a caterpillar eating their leaves they released mustard oil, which is used to ward off predators who find their leaves appealing. Sensitive lasers were then used to measure the movement of the plants.
The team at Missouri’s Division of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources played recordings of caterpillar feeding vibrations to a number of plants and no recording to another set.
When caterpillars returned to feed on the Arabidopsis, the plants exposed to the feeding vibrations had produced more mustard oils than the plants that hadn’t been exposed to the sounds of caterpillars feeding.
Rex Cocroft, a professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at Missouri who collaborated with Heidi Appel of the Bond Life Sciences Center at MU 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 defenses.
“This indicates that the plants are able to distinguish feeding vibrations from other common sources of environmental vibration.”
“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,” Appel added.