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

le of the plants cooperating with kin by attempting to acquire needed resources without shading nearby relatives. Yellow jewelweed is found in the understory of forests, where light may be scarce but the soil is usually nutrient-rich. Because light is the limiting factor for plant growth in this environment, a plant competing with its neighbors would be most likely to allocate resources to leaves.

For Impatiens plants grown with strangers, the plants increased their resource allocation to their leaves relative to allocation to stems and roots, an indication of a competitive response. By moving their resources into leaves, these plants not only positively affected their own growth by enhancing their ability to acquire a limited resource but also negatively affected their competitors' growth by shading nearby plants and decreasing the competitor's light acquisition abilities.

However, these differences in response based on the presence of kin or strangers were only observed in those plants grown with root neighbors, indicating that communication among roots may be necessary for plants to recognize kin. Also, changes in allocation of resources toward roots in response to light quality only occurred in plants grown with root neighbors. This is the first instance where researchers demonstrated that a plant's response to an aboveground cue is dependent upon the presence of a belowground cue. This study demonstrates that plants are social organisms. It shows that altruism is possible among plants and that response to both kin and strangers depend on the ecology of the plant species.


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Contact: Richard Hund
rhund@botany.org
314-577-9557
American Journal of Botany
Source:Eurekalert

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