Theory of ‘smart’ plants may explain the evolution of global ecosystems

“It’s easy to think of plants as passive features of their environments, doing as the land prescribes, serving as a backdrop to the bustling animal kingdom.

“But what if the ecosystems of the world take their various forms because plant “decisions” make them that way? A new theory presented by Princeton University researchers in the journal Nature Plants suggests that in some cases that may be exactly what happens. In one of the first global theories of land-biome evolution, the researchers write that plants may actively behave in ways that not only benefit themselves but also determine the productivity and composition of their environs.

“Our theory explains biomes based on the new idea that we must consider plants to be smart and strategic,” said senior author Lars Hedin, a Princeton professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and department chair. “This is a global theory that explains why biomes differ in nutrient conditions and in their abilities to respond to disturbances and to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”  From: phys.org

GR:  This article by reputable scientists and published by a reputable journal troubles me. Thinking back to J.P. Grime’s book “Plant Strategies and Vegetation,” I wonder if the authors simply overlooked relevant literature when the proposed and then interpreted their research.  Adding more life-history variations to Grime’s work would be preferable to striking out on an independent course to rediscover Grime’s ideas. This interpretive remark by one of the authors is especially troubling:   “Tropical nitrogen-fixing plants are smart enough to know when to use costly nitrogen fixation to compete with neighboring plants, and when to turn it off, as if they are sentient beings,” Hedin said.

Frederick E. Clements had edged toward the idea that vegetation behaved as an organism as it matured. I believe H. A. Gleason demolished this idea quite well in his 1926 paper:  “The Individualistic Concept of the Plant Association” (Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club).

 

Scientists say deforestation may threaten a staggering half of Amazon tree species with extinction

“Tropical tree species could be in much bigger trouble than scientists had thought: A new study, which involved collaboration from dozens of researchers, suggests that at least 36 percent and up to 57 percent of all Amazon tree species are likely at risk of extinction, depending on future deforestation rates. If true, this information would raise the number of threatened plant species on Earth by about 22 percent.

“The research, which was published Friday in the journal Science Advances, combined spatial distribution models of the Amazon with both historical and projected data on deforestation to determine the conservation status of more than 15,000 Amazonian tree species, about two-thirds of which the authors considered rare species. The researchers used listing criteria from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which maintains a “red list” of threatened species on Earth, to decide which species should be considered in danger of extinction.”  From: www.washingtonpost.com

GR:  With the expected growth of our population and demand for meat and other products from forest soils, the threatened extinctions discussed in this article seem virtually inevitable.

Nature News Digests

GarryRogersNature News Digests:

Plant Lives: A timely coincidence

Plant Life: A Brief History. Frederick Essig. Oxford University Press, 2015 [https://global.oup.com/academic/product/plant-life-9780199362646?cc=gb〈=en&; http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199362646.do]

A phenomenon I thought only applied to buses was that you wait for ages for one of them to arrive and then two turn up together. Well, a similar thing has happened recently in the world of plant biology book publishing. The two tomes are Armstrong’s How the Earth Turned Green: A brief 3.8-billion-year history of plants [http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/H/bo16465693.html]* and the one I write about today, Essig’s Plant Life: A brief history (hereafter referred to as Plant Life). That’s not a problem, merely an observation. Hey, I like books about plants so I am definitely not complaining! But what also struck me about these two is how similar they are (but more on that later).  Sourced through Scoop.it from: aobblog.com

GR:  Biodiversity applies to plants as well as animals.  In fact, if there were no plants there would be almost no animals.  This is a great review of a book that will tell you all about plants.