James Cameron was right: plants can talk to each other

James Cameron took a lot of sci-fi leaps when he worked up Avatar. People were heading out amongst the stars and mining alien worlds for resources, humans were able to slip their consciousness into custom-designed avatars, the list of crazily futuristic stuff goes on. But there was one claim that nobody really thought could be plausible: trees can't talk to one another. Or can they?

Who knew that, before humanity has even drilled its first asteroid, we'd discover that plants can, in fact, communicate. A recent study led by Dr. David Johnson at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland has found evidence that plants can communicate with one another through the soil. Actually, it isn't the soil itself that facilitates the inter-plant messaging system — it's the fungus that lives in the soil. Not only can plants warn one another of impending blight, they can actually band together to fight off predators. Since "fighting" doesn't really translate that well into plant behaviors, here's an example:

A plant is attacked by aphids. The beleaguered plant sends a fungus-couriered message to its neighbors that reads something like "eww, aphids" while defending itself and also releasing a scent which is pleasing to wasps. The neighboring plants, upon receiving the message also release the wasp-luring scent, even though they themselves are in no immediate danger. Wasps hate aphids just as much as plants, so once they arrive on the scene they come to the defense of the ailing plant and all is well.

The University of Aberdeen actually set up the scenario above. They also made sure that the fungal communication lines were the only way the plants had to contact each other. Lo and behold, it worked. Plants can (sort of) talk. Dr. Johnson believes that most, if not all, plants make use of these fungal phone lines in one way or another, and hopefully we'll be able to listen in in more detail to find out just what all these plants think about us humans anyway.

The Economist, via Core77

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