A 'New' Form of Intelligent Life? Plants Found to Have Memory and Make Complex Decisions
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March 08, 2014

A 'New' Form of Intelligent Life? Plants Found to Have Memory and Make Complex Decisions

 

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Maybe the intelligence of the Tree of Souls (image above) on the planet Pandora in James Cameron's Avatar is more probable in the evolutionary scheme of things in the Universe than we think. In a new discovery, scientists from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Göttingen, have concluded from their study of Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), which is able to abort its own seeds to prevent parasite infestation, that plants can make complex decisions. The results are the first ecological evidence of complex behavior in plants. They indicate that this species has a structural memory, is able to differentiate between inner and outer conditions as well as anticipate future risks.

The European barberry or simply Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) is a species of shrub distributed throughout Europe. It is related to the Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) that is native to North America and that has been spreading through Europe for years. Scientists compared both species to find a marked difference in parasite infestation: "a highly specialized species of tephritid fruit fly, whose larvae actually feed on the seeds of the native Barberry, was found to have a tenfold higher population density on its new host plant, the Oregon grape," reports Dr. Harald Auge, a biologist at the UFZ.

 

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This led scientists to examine the seeds of the Barberry more closely. Approximately 2000 berries were collected from different regions of Germany, examined for signs of piercing and then cut open to examine any infestation by the larvae of the tephritid fruit fly (Rhagoletis meigenii). This parasite punctures the berries in order to lay its eggs inside them. If the larva is able to develop, it will often feed on all of the seeds in the berry. A special characteristic of the Barberry is that each berry usually has two seeds and that the plant is able to stop the development of its seeds in order to save its resources. This mechanism is also employed to defend it from the tephritid fruit fly. If a seed is infested with the parasite, later on the developing larva will feed on both seeds. If however the plant aborts the infested seed, then the parasite in that seed will also die and the second seed in the berry is saved.

When analysing the seeds, the scientists came across a surprising discovery: "the seeds of the infested fruits are not always aborted, but rather it depends on how many seeds there are in the berries," explains Dr. Katrin M. Meyer, who analysed the data at the UFZ and currently works at the University of Goettingen. If the infested fruit contains two seeds, then in 75 per cent of cases, the plants will abort the infested seeds, in order to save the second intact seed. If however the infested fruit only contains one seed, then the plant will only abort the infested seed in 5 per cent of cases. The data from fieldwork were put into a computer model which resulted in a conclusive picture.

Using computer model calculations, scientists were able to demonstrate how those plants subjected to stress from parasite infestation reacted very differently from those without stress. "If the Barberry aborts a fruit with only one infested seed, then the entire fruit would be lost. Instead it appears to 'speculate' that the larva could die naturally, which is a possibility. Slight chances are better than none at all," explains Dr. Hans-Hermann Thulke from the UFZ. "This anticipative behaviour, whereby anticipated losses and outer conditions are weighed up, very much surprised us. The message of our study is therefore that plant intelligence is entering the realms of ecological possibility."

But how does the Barberry know what is in store for it after the tephritid fruit fly has punctured a berry? It is still unclear as to how the plant processes information and how this complex behaviour was able to develop over the course of evolution. The Oregon grape that is closely related to the Barberry has been living in Europe for some 200 years with the risk of being infested by the tephritid fruit fly and yet it has not developed any such comparable defence strategy. These new insights shed some light on the underestimated abilities of plants, while at the same time bringing up many new questions.

The Daily Galaxy via Helmholtz Centre For Environmental Research

Comments

I didn't understand a fucking word 'kevinearick' said!!!

@Allan W Janssen,

"I didn't understand a fucking word 'kevinearick' said!!!"

I too didn't understand. The guy is smoking something and tripping on it

I understand what he said, i just don't see how it applies to a science article about trees having memory and making complex decisions. He's diatribe was about how America is a failing empire due to lack of quality public education and a corrupt financial industry. He's correct but it has nothing to do with this story.

is this just another entertainment site, or do you actually want to do something?

what is required to make complex decisions?

why are humans now incapable of making complex decisions?

also, in case you have any interest at all in programming the necessary propulsion to go anywhere beyond this solar system in your lifetime, you need to have gravity calculate itself.

where are you going to get the money to make the investment?

how are you going to redirect investment?

but, what the H do I know?

just another sh-show I guess.

To get back to the trees and decision thing ......, seems everything is tied in with "nature" or whatever you want to call it!
Humans seem to be at the top of the heep since they are best at figuring things out.

This is followed animals, but since their brains aren't as complex they can't connect as well with nature/god or whatever you want to call it.

We can go down the line of all living things with less and less "awareness" until ya get to plants and then amoeba being at the bottom of the list.

There is even talk of Terra itself and the Universe as a whole being a living organism.

Round and round she goes, and where it stops...., nobody knows!

oh...my... ...

ok then.

Plants have intelligence was long known. But what is found now is really next level of intelligence. Really hear warming to know..

Trees are sacred to the indigenous communities because plants can feel and they nourish us with healthy air and fruits. It should not be surprising to us.

I have a pretty good idea that intelligent plants consider us nothing more than parasites. Not sure the best thing in their mind is to nourish humans.


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