2017 Children's Science News - Silver

Jennifer Barone wrote about how plants detect and respond to changes in the world around them and even communicate with their neighbors through chemical signals. When scientists recorded vibrations of a caterpillar eating leaves and played the recording back to some plants but not others, the plants exposed to the munching sound produced more chemical defenses against the bugs. When sagebrush plants are attacked by hungry insects, researchers have found, they emit chemical cues into the air to alert neighboring plants. Trees also interact with their environment, Barone reported. Scientists in Austria and Finland used lasers to map the position of tree branches. “At night, the branches drooped, as if the trees were sleeping,” Barone wrote. “At sunrise, the branches perked up again as trees angled their leaves to catch sunlight.” Trees also can interact with a dense network of fungi beneath the forest floor to share nutrients or water with neighbors in need. Eliene Augenbraun, multimedia managing editor for Nature Research Group, said Barone’s piece was “well written, engaging and told me things I did not know before. I loved the story of how plants hear caterpillar crunching and make more chemical defenses.” Barone said the story opened her eyes. “I hate to admit it, but until not too long ago, I grossly underestimated plants,” she said. “When I came across recent research on plant senses and behavior, I was blown away by how cool and sophisticated these organisms really are.”