Although Charles Darwin is most well-known for his book On the Origin of Species, in which he described the process of natural selection, he greatly contributed to many specific fields within biology. As the bicentennial anniversary of Darwin's birth comes to a close, the December issue of the American Journal of Botany presents two papers exploring botanical history before the time of Darwin, Darwin's contributions to botany, and what scientists have discovered in the subsequent years following Darwin's first presentation of his many provocative ideas to the scientific community.
In "The 'Sensational Power' of Movement in Plants: A Darwinian System for Studying the Evolution of Behavior," Dr. Craig Whippo and Dr. Roger Hangarter discuss Darwin's research on plant movement (http://www.amjbot.org/cgi/content/full/96/12/2115). When Darwin first presented his theory of evolution, many opponents of the theory argued that evolution could not account for the acquisition of behavioral traits. Darwin believed that if he could present a materialistic basis for behavior, he could then explain how evolution acted on it. He used plant movements to test his theories of the evolution of behavior, and, as in many other areas of biology, Darwin's plant physiology research contributed to a paradigm shift in our understanding of the biological basis of insect, plant, and microbial behavior.
While studying carnivorous sundew plants, Darwin was shocked to learn that the plant was more sensitive to touch than human skin and could even distinguish between objects. Darwin's many experiments convinced him that plants were actively responding to the environment and that their movements were not a passive consequence of the environment acting on the plant. Darwin attempted to explain all plant movements as modified forms of circumnutation, a process whereby a plant or plant part moves in rep
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American Journal of Botany