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Far from being passive, plants are incredibly active manipulators of their environments

Monday, March 24, 2014 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: plants, protective traits, environment

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(NaturalNews) Plants may not be able to move, but they have evolved a staggering array of techniques for affecting their surroundings. These adaptations allow plants to do everything from incapacitating predators and deterring rivals to colonizing new lands and even changing the behavior of the plants and animals in their vicinity.

Some of the most striking ways in which plants manipulate their surroundings involve defending themselves from predation. In addition to "passive" defenses such as bark or spines, many plants are also filled with toxic chemicals capable of delivering anything from an irritating rash to fatal poisoning. But this is not the only way that plants can affect their predators -- plants produce a wide variety of chemicals that can act like the hormones or neurotransmitters produced by animals' own bodies (this is where drugs like heroin and cocaine come from).

While most of these chemicals tend to be concentrated in seeds, leaves or other structures that plants are trying to defend from predation, some plants have evolved more aggressive methods of delivery. The stinging nettle, for example, is covered with microscopic syringes that literally inject a chemical cocktail, including the neurotransmitter serotonin, into any animal that touches it.

Plants also emit chemicals into their surroundings. Some of these chemicals may suppress the growth of rival species, while others may warn plants of the same species that predators are in the same area and induce them to ramp up their defenses. Other chemicals may summon predatory insects to defend the plant.

Nearly every plant on Earth is dependent on animals for pollination or seed dispersal, and plants have a breathtaking array of techniques for securing those animals' cooperation. Fruits and flowers are complex structures that have evolved to manipulate animals into doing the plant's work for it. In some cases, plants manipulate animals by offering them a fair trade: "eat this delicious fruit or nectar in exchange for doing me a favor." In other cases, plants deceive animals, such as by making their flowers appear to be a food source or potential mate so that an insect will brush up against it and, disappointed, depart -- but carrying a load of pollen that it never got paid for.










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