Plants, Water & Sound


Thanks to Brandon Keim and Anthropocene for this summary of some recent science exploring the reactions of flora to sound in their search for water:

Plants can hear water. Could noise pollution interfere?

There’s a transformation underway in how people think about plants: not just as inanimate biological objects, but as capable of perceptions and actions that resemble the intelligent behaviors of animals.Studies have described plants communicating with each other, using light and scent to see and hear, even appearing to remember weather patterns or being eaten. The latest addition to this blooming area of literature: plants can detect the sound of water and use it to guide the growth of their roots.

In a study published in the journal Oecologia, researchers led by Monica Gagliano, a biologist at the University of Western Australia, describe how common peas—often used as a model organism in plant studies—respond to vibrations produced by water flowing through a pipe. “These findings highlight the urgent need to better understand the ecological role of sound,” write Gagliano’s team, “and the consequences of acoustic pollution for plant as well as animal populations.”…

…Their findings also raise new questions about the problem of noise pollution, which is usually conceived in terms of its detrimental effects on the ability of animals to hear and communicate. “If plants’ abilities to perceive and respond to the surrounding soundscape are also affected by noise, as our findings suggest, what are the ecological ramifications of acoustic pollution on their natural communities?” ask the researchers. “The scope of our understanding on the matter needs to be extended to include plants.”

Source: Gagliano M et al. “Tuned in: plant roots use sound to locate water.” Oecologia. 2017.

Read the whole summary here.

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