Buzzing bees make flower nectar sweeter
The ears of both prey and predator are attuned to one another’s existence. Audio is so elemental to life and survival that it prompted Tel Aviv University researcher Lilach Hadany to inquire: What if it was not only animals that could sense sound–what if crops could, also? The very first experiments to examine this theory, published recently about the pre-print server bioRxiv, suggest that in a minimum of one case, plants may hear, and it confers a real evolutionary benefit.
Flowers for ears
To test the vibrational effects of each sound frequency test group, Hadany and her co-author Marine Veits, then a graduate student in Hadany’s lab, put the evening primrose flowers under a machine called a laser vibrometer, which measures minute movements. The team then compared the flowers’ vibrations with those from each of the sound treatments.
“This specific flower is bowl- shaped, so acoustically speaking, it makes sense that this kind of structure would vibrate and increase the vibration within itself,” Veits says.
And indeed it did, at least for the pollinators’ frequencies. Hadany says it was exciting to see the vibrations of the flower match up with the wavelengths of the bee recording.
Also, could this ability confer other advantages beyond nectar production and pollination? Hadany posits that perhaps plants alert one another to the sound of herbivores mowing down their neighbors. Or maybe they can generate sounds that attract the animals involved in dispersing that plant’s seeds.
“We have to take into account that flowers have evolved with pollinators for a very long time,” Hadany says. “They are living entities, and they, too, need to survive in the world. It’s important for them to be able to sense their environment—especially if they cannot go anywhere.”