What’s New About How Plants Work? – Some “Tasty Tidbits” from 2013 (Seventh Course)

From Frightened Earthworms to Nosey Caterpillars

Plants on Earth have co-evolved with millions of “neighbors”, from microbes to mammals, some friendly, and some not so.

What seemed to be a somewhat recurring theme in the plant news in July 2013 was how plants are affected by their “neighbors”, both friend and foe.

  • Starting with subterranean “neighbors”, some investigators provided evidence that earthworms fleeing predatory beetles actually improve soil fertility: Scared earthworms help plants grow, and, in other research, scientists showed that crop rotation significantly enhanced the soil by promoting microbial diversity in: How crop rotation works.
  • About 90 percent of plants need animals, mostly insects, to transfer pollen between them so that they can fertilize and reproduce. Bees are by far the most important pollinators worldwide and have co-evolved with the floral resources they need for nutrition.” This is part of a summary entitled “Bees ‘betray’ their flowers when pollinator species decline” of a paper published ahead of print in the July 22, 2013 online early edition of PNAS. This report provides evidence that “…global declines in pollinators could have a bigger impact on flowering plants and foods than previously realized.
  • Of course, human “neighbors” may have had the some of the biggest impacts on plants in the past few thousand years, especially when it comes to genetically-engineered plants, which are part of the larger category called “GMOs”. It was a mixed-bag for plant GMO news in July of last year: on the “negative” side there was Monsanto drops GMOs in Europe, and on the “positive” side there was A race to save the orange by altering its DNA.
  • And, finally, to the caterpillars: “Plants that emit an airborne distress signal in response to herbivory may actually attract more enemies,…” according to a study published in Frontiers in Plant Science, an open-access journal: Caterpillars attracted to plant SOS.
  • Next-up on our menu: August 2013

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