Researchers from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) have found in a new study how plants use their own communication system to warn each other of impending danger. Herbal plants such as strawberry, clover, reed and ground elder naturally form networks.
Individual plants remain connected with each other for a certain period of time by means of runners. These connections, very similar to computer networks, enable the plants to share information with each other via internal channels.
Vidi researcher Josef Stuefer at the Radboud University Nijmegen has now demonstrated that clover plants warn each other via the network links if enemies are nearby. If caterpillars attack one of the plants, the other members of the network are warned via an internal signal.
Once warned, the intact plants strengthen their chemical and mechanical resistance so that they are less attractive for advancing caterpillars.
Experimental research has also revealed that this significantly limits the damage to the plants. However, plant viruses can also use the infrastructure to rapidly spread through the connected plants.
The infection of one plant therefore leads to the infection of all plants within the network, the study revealed.
The research is part of the Vidi project 'Plant Intranets. Costs, benefits, & risks of communication pathways in clonal plant networks', funded by NWO and the Radboud University Nijmegen.