A new experiment has revealed that plants are more likely to take risks or risk prone, when conditions for survival are tough. By contrast, when there is no immediate threat to their well-being plants suddenly become risk-adverse.
Scientists explained that these tactics are also widely spread in the animal kingdom and among humans. Yet, it is the first time scientists document them in plants.
Alex Kacelnik, lead author of the study and biologist at of Oxford University in the UK, explained that it is the first time scientists find an adaptive response based on risk assessment in an organism that lacks a nervous system.
Kacelnik argued that the experiment is not definite proof that plants are intelligent life forms, but they can display complex behaviors or biological adaptations.
In their experiment, researchers used a few dozen pea plants with roots divided between two pots. In a first phase, one pot was nutrient-rich while the other was nutrient depleted. As a result, pea plants had to choose between the two pots and decide where to expand their roots.
After several weeks, researchers noted that plants doubled their efforts of growing roots in the pot that provided more resources to thrive.
In a second phase, researchers poured the same amount of nutrients in both pots, but one pot had constant levels of nutrients while the other one had varying levels over time. Scientists planned to learn what decision plants will make to grow roots.
In this case, plants were more likely to take risks and grow roots in the pot with variable levels of nutrients when the amount of nutrients was low in both pots. When nutrients were plenty in both pots, plants grew more roots in the pot with constant levels.
Researchers explained that the same behavior was documented in humans and animals alike. For instance, if you are lost in a hostile place and you must choose between $800 that are guaranteed and $1,000 that are not guaranteed but you have even chances of winning them, which one you will choose if the fare for a return trip to your home is $1.000? Most respondents said that they would take a chance and risk losing the $800.
Study authors couldn’t tell how plants can detect when nutrient levels vary over time, neither were they able to explain how exactly plants assess risk without a nervous system.
However, the recent experiment showed that plants are “dynamic strategists” willing to take risks rather than passive recipients as we may have imagined.
The study was published last week in the journal Current Biology.
Image Source: Pixabay