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Smarty Plants! Study Reveals Plant 'Gambles' To Make Wise Decisions

Jul 04, 2016 04:22 AM EDT
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A recent study discovered that plants are good decision makers, despite not having an actual brain.

A group of international researchers conducted an experiment to find out if plants, just like humans and some animals, show risk sensitivity.

Risk sensitivity is defined as the "ability to switch between risk proneness and risk aversion depending on state and circumstances, especially according to the richness of the least variable option."

To come up with the results, the researchers did two separate experiments.

First, they grew pea plants with their roots placed in two separate pots that had varying levels of nutrients. Results showed that pea plants prefer to grow their roots more in soil that has more nutrients.

The researchers also placed the plant's roots in a pot that has a consistent level of nutrients, and the other part of the root in a pot with varying nutrients.

Results show that although the level of nutrients is the same, the plants chose to grow more roots in the pot with varied level of nutrients, meaning they opt to go for the "higher risk" option, as predicted by the scientists.

"To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of an adaptive response to risk in an organism without a nervous system," said researcher Alex Kacelnik, a zoologist at Oxford University, in a news release.

"We do not conclude that plants are intelligent in the sense used for humans or other animals, but rather that complex and interesting behaviours can theoretically be predicted as biological adaptations--and executed by organisms--on the basis of processes evolved to exploit natural opportunities efficiently," Kacelnik added.

Previous study had revealed that plants can feel pain and actually know that they are being eaten. Using Arabidopsis thaliana and caterpillars, researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia found out that plants recognize the sound of being eaten through "feeding vibrations" and the sound prompts them to put up their defenses.

Moreover, it has the ability to distinguish between the sound of being eaten and the sound of environmentally-made vibrations, like wind.

According to TechTimes, Kacelnik and his team did not figure out how it was possible for the pea plants to make the distinction. More experiments should be done to fully understand their ability to make dynamic decisions.

The study was published in the journal Current Biology.

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