Plants prefer their kin, crowd out competition from strangers

Nov 16, 2009
Plants prefer their kin, crowd out competition from strangers
Seedlings of a North American species of shade-loving Impatiens. The plants reacted mildly with other offspring from the same mother plant, but when planted among non-kin shifted extra resources into growing leaves.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Plants don't mind sharing space with their kin but when they're potted with strangers of the same species they start invigorating their leaves, a study by McMaster University reveals.

The research, which appears in the current issue of the , suggests non-kin plants will not only compete underground for , but will attempt to muscle out the competition above ground in the ongoing struggle for light.

It follows previous research from McMaster University which found that plants can recognize their kin through root systems and will compete more strongly for soil nutrients and water with non-sibling plants.

"This is the first study that shows plants are responding to kin at the above ground level," explains Guillermo Murphy, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the Department of Biology at McMaster University. "When they recognize their kin, they grow differently in shape, taller, with more branches and fewer resources into leaves, therefore allowing their siblings to access precious sunlight."

When researchers planted seedlings of a North American species of shade-loving Impatiens in the same pot, they reacted mildly with other offspring from the same mother plant. But when planted among non-kin of the same species, the plants shift extra resources into growing leaves.

"This supports previous research that plants are capable of complex and will exhibit altruistic behaviour, giving their siblings a competitive edge in the wild," says Murphy.

In a previous study, led by Susan Dudley, associate professor of biology at McMaster, the Great Lakes sea rocket or Cakile edentula, which flourishes on beaches, showed altruistic behavior among its kin at the root level. When nearby strangers were detected, the sea rocket shifted resources to roots, fighting for precious water and soil nutrients.

This all makes sense on an ecological level, says Murphy. Sea rockets would have easy access to sunlight in its natural beach habitat and therefore, would struggle for nutrients underground. Conversely, Impatiens thrive in the shady woodlands, where moisture is plentiful, but sunlight is scarce.

The roots seem to tell siblings from strangers, he says, whether the change in behaviour is above or below ground. But simply placing them beside one another, in separate pots, did not produce the same results.

In the lab, researchers germinated the seeds from Impatiens collected in the field, to ensure they were properly grouped by and non-siblings.

Source: McMaster University (news : web)

Explore further: Lowly 'new girl' chimps form stronger female bonds

Related Stories

Plants recognize their siblings, biologists discover

Jun 13, 2007

The next time you venture into your garden armed with plants, consider who you place next to whom. It turns out that the docile garden plant isn’t as passive as widely assumed, at least not with strangers. Researchers at ...

Can a plant be altruistic?

Nov 11, 2009

The concept of altruism has long been debated in philosophical circles, and more recently, evolutionary biologists have joined the debate. From the perspective of natural selection, altruism may have evolved because any ...

Newly discovered snow roots are 'evolutionary phenomenon'

Jun 12, 2009

It may not be the Yeti, but in a remote region of the Russian mountains a previously unknown and entirely unique form of plant root has been discovered. Lead Scientist Professor Hans Cornelissen and his Russian-Dutch team ...

Recommended for you

Estuaries protect Dungeness crabs from deadly parasites

3 hours ago

Parasitic worms can pose a serious threat to the Dungeness crab, a commercially important fishery species found along the west coast of North America. The worms are thought to have caused or contributed to ...

An evolutionary heads-up—the brain size advantage

4 hours ago

A larger brain brings better cognitive performance. And so it seems only logical that a larger brain would offer a higher survival potential. In the course of evolution, large brains should therefore win ...

Our bond with dogs may go back more than 27,000 years

May 21, 2015

Dogs' special relationship to humans may go back 27,000 to 40,000 years, according to genomic analysis of an ancient Taimyr wolf bone reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 21. Earlier genome ...

Social structure 'helps birds avoid a collision course'

May 21, 2015

The sight of skilful aerial manoeuvring by flocks of Greylag geese to avoid collisions with York's Millennium Bridge intrigued mathematical biologist Dr Jamie Wood. It raised the question of how birds collectively ...

Orchid seductress ropes in unsuspecting males

May 21, 2015

A single population of a rare hammer orchid species known as a master of sexual deception appears to have recently evolved to seduce a new and wider-spread species of impressionable male wasps.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.