Plants Camouflaging with Odour: Survival Strategy

Credits: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Till now, we have known, humans and animals (including insects) have survival instincts. Its not just grit, its instinct. Sometime or the other, in our lives, we have experienced it too. But ever heard of plants displaying this survival strategy?

Flora in Chamela-Cuixmala park shown patterns of survival instincts. As per a study conducted by international researchers from Europe and North America, plants in dense tropical forests have showed signs of masking their chemical scents so as to avoid being spotted and consumed by insects.

About 28 species of insects and 20 plant species were observed in forest reserve on the western coast of Mexico. Researchers concluded that individual members of complex plant communities have evolved in a manner that all behave in unification towards survival. As a conglomerate, they emit similar odours, that keeps hungry herbivores at bay.

Chemical odours emitted by twenty plant species were collected in silicon tubes and brought back to Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for observations.

Complex plant communities

Like any other living being, some plants have the ability to enable their survival mode. Since they can’t move, so they use odour as their defence mechanism.

Stakes of consuming these plants by herbivores are high when they emanate easily distinguished odours. Hence, they have evolved to give out smell which is far from their original odours due to which they are not easily stand out.

For the first time, scientists were able to observe and examine interactions between 20 varieties of plants and insects.

Initial studies between plant-herbivore chemical communication were done only on single plant species and lab’s in controlled environments.

Credits: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

An evolutionary approach

Technique involving mixture of understanding evolutionary biology and flow of communication among humans, researchers were able to create models of these plant-herbivore communication networks.

Plant biologists concluded that chemicals play an important role in masking plants in a complex plant community.

Researchers envision that this study will help to provide insights on how information across species – in the food chain – is transmitted.

If plants have evolved to protect themselves then eventually herbivores too might evolve to fine tune with the information for locating specific plant hosts.

Via: Professor Phil Stevenson, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

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