|
|
The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Gardening to Distraction: Chew on this!

  • Not sure I have the brightest tomato plants growing in pots on my deck. A recent check of the caterpillar-munching to plant leaf ratio suggests my tomatoes don’t care if hornworm caterpillars defoliate them. But then I may be wrong.
    • email print
      Comment
  • »  RELATED CONTENT
  • Not sure I have the brightest tomato plants growing in pots on my deck. A recent check of the caterpillar-munching to plant leaf ratio suggests my tomatoes don’t care if hornworm caterpillars defoliate them. But then I may be wrong.
    According to a University of Missouri news release, scientists at the University of Missouri have demonstrated some plants put up defenses in response to the sounds caterpillars make when they are eating plants.
    “Previous research has investigated how plants respond to acoustic energy, including music,” said Heidi Appel, senior research scientist in the Division of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and Bond Life Science Center at University of Missouri. “However, our work is the first example of how plants respond to an ecologically relevant vibration. We found that feeding vibrations signal changes in the plant cells’ metabolism, creating more defensive chemicals that can repel attacks from caterpillars.”
    In the study, caterpillars were placed on Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard. Using a laser and a tiny piece of reflective material on a plant leaf, researchers were able to measure the movement of the leaf in response to a chewing caterpillar.
    They then played back recordings of caterpillar feeding vibrations to one set of plants, but played back only silence to the other set of plants. When caterpillars later fed on both sets of plants, the researchers found plants previously exposed to feeding vibrations produced more mustard oils, an unappealing chemical to many caterpillars.
    Appel collaborated with Rex Cocroft, University of Missouri Division of Biological Sciences professor.
    “What is remarkable is that plants exposed to different vibrations, including those made by a gentle wind or different insect sounds that share some acoustic features with caterpillar feeding vibrations, did not increase their chemical defenses,” Cocroft said. “This indicates that the plants are able to distinguish feeding vibrations from other common sources of environmental vibration.”
    Future research will focus on how vibrations are sensed by plants, what features of the complex vibrational signal are important and how mechanical vibrations interact with other forms of plant information to generate protective responses.
    “Plants have many ways to detect insect attack, but feeding vibrations are likely the fastest way for distant parts of the plant to perceive the attack and begin to increase their defenses,” Cocroft said.
    “Caterpillars react to this chemical defense by crawling away, so using vibrations to enhance plant defenses could be useful to agriculture,” Appel said. “This research also opens the window of plant behavior a little wider, showing that plants have many of the same responses to outside influences that animals do, even though the responses look different.”
    Page 2 of 2 - I wonder if future research will prove what I suspect, and that is my plants have learned to distinguish between wind and other environmental influences and my cats. I have been blaming the cats, but maybe it’s my tomato plants fighting back.
    Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a rapidly changing climate. Copyright 2014 used with permission by Rolla Daily News and Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@gmail.com.

        calendar