Are plants more intelligent than we assumed?

In their new study, the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Göttingen have concluded from their investigations that plants appear to be able to make complex decisions (just like higher organisms).

Their results are the first ecological evidence of complex behaviour in plants. They indicate that Barberries (Berberis vulgaris) have a structural memory, and are able to differentiate between inner and outer conditions as well as anticipate future risks. A special characteristic of the Barberry is that each berry usually has two seeds and that the plant is able to stop the development of its seeds in order to save its resources. If a seed is infested with the parasite, later on the developing larva will feed on both seeds. If however the plant aborts the infested seed, then the parasite in that seed will also die and the second seed in the berry is saved.

In this study, the researchers saw that barberry plants were able to abort their own seeds to prevent parasite infestation.It is still unclear as to how the plant processes information and how this complex behaviour was able to develop over the course of evolution. The Oregon grape that is closely related to the Barberry has been living in Europe for some 200 years with the risk of being infested by the tephritid fruit fly and yet it has not developed any such comparable defence strategy.

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