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Can a plant be altruistic?
Date:11/11/2009

The concept of altruism has long been debated in philosophical circles, and more recently, evolutionary biologists have joined the debate. From the perspective of natural selection, altruism may have evolved because any action that improves the likelihood of a relative's survival and reproduction increases the chance of an individual's DNA being passed on. Social behavior, kin recognition, and altruism are well known in the animal kingdom; however, although plants have the ability to sense and respond to other plants, their ability to recognize kin and act altruistically has been the subject of few studies.

In a paper published in the November issue of the American Journal of Botany (http://www.amjbot.org/cgi/content/full/96/11/1990), Ph.D. candidate Guillermo Murphy and Dr. Susan Dudley explore kin recognition in Impatiens pallida, commonly known as yellow jewelweed. Yellow jewelweed individuals are often found growing in close proximity to related individuals and are known to respond strongly to aboveground competition, making this species a likely candidate for kin recognition.

Murphy and Dudley measured plants' responses to two potential cues for competitionchanges in light quality (an aboveground cue) and the presence of root neighbors (an underground cue)for plants grown with strangers and with relatives. The researchers found that the response of Impatiens plants differed depending on whether the plants grew with relatives or with strangers. This demonstrates that jewelweed is capable of recognizing kin from non-kin and shows an interesting degree of complexity since both types of responses differed from plants growing with no neighbors at all.

Among close relatives, plants did not increase resource allocation to roots or leaves. Rather, they altered their aboveground morphology by increasing stem elongation and branching. This may be an examp
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Contact: Richard Hund
rhund@botany.org
314-577-9557
American Journal of Botany
Source:Eurekalert

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