Humans use speech as a form of communication with one another, and many animals exhibit unique vocalizations with the same influence. Plants, on the other hand, don’t make a peep; so how do they communicate with one another?
Some may be inclined to say that plants don’t communicate with one another at all, but according to a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE this week, researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences have found otherwise.
Image Credit: Elhakeem et al. (2018)
While plants don’t communicate with one another through the traditional sense of speaking and listening as people and animals do, plants do appear to discharge chemicals into the soil that can serve as signals for other plants residing nearby.
The plants’ roots are particularly important in this process. The plant secreting the chemicals into the soil does so via its own roots, while other plants nearby use their roots to detect and ‘understand’ the signals associated with particular chemical traces.
The discovery is not only fascinating, but it raises additional questions. Of those, it seems logical to ask what plants might be saying to one another with these chemical signals.
Study lead author Velemir Ninkovic asked this very same question, and to learn more, he and his colleagues performed various tests with corn seedlings to uncover more. After testing, it became apparent that there could be a link between the circumstances above ground and the chemical signals that get unleashed below.
"Our study demonstrated that changes induced by above ground mechanical contact between plants can affect below ground interactions, acting as cues in prediction of the future competitors," he said.
As it would seem, the chemical signals could tell other plants whether they’re related or not, which may alert them to potential competition. They may also communicate stressful situations with other plants in an attempt to ensure survival.
The study only scratches the surface of the new idea, but future research could uncover more about the secrets that plants are whispering to one another underground.