Plants Are Better at Complex Decision-Making Than We Ever Realised

Pretty good for not having a brain.

DAVID NIELD

28 DEC 2017

We know that plants can learn, and make decisions, and we now have a new level of insight into the decision-making process plants go through when put under pressure, vying with competitors for limited access to sunlight.

It turns out our flora friends can react to the size and strength of their nearby neighbours, deciding how best to survive considering what’s happening around them, according to a new study.

Based on what they have to deal with, plants can either try to outgrow their competitors (confrontational vertical elongation) or go into a low-light survival mode (shade tolerance).

Some plants can even grow away from their close companions (avoidance behaviour), according to researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany.

smart plants 2Different plant scenarios (University of Tübingen)

“These three alternative responses of plants to light competition have been well-documented in the literature,” says one of the team, Michal Gruntman.

“In our study we wanted to learn if plants can choose between these responses and match them to the relative size and density of their opponents.”

In short: yes they can.

The searchers set up the plant Potentilla reptans in a variety of experimental settings, designed to mimic different scenarios in nature.

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