UWA-led study finds plants listen for sounds of water

UWA-led study finds plants listen for sounds of water
UWA-led study finds plants listen for sounds of water

WHILE talking to plants may or may not help them grow, it turns out they are listening, but only for sounds of water.

A UWA-led study has found plants have far more complex and developed senses than we thought with the ability to detect and respond to sounds to find water, and ultimately survive.

Researchers found that plants could sense sound vibrations from running water moving through pipes or in the soil, to help their roots move towards the source of water.

The study Tuned in: plant roots use sound to locate water, published in Oecologia, also revealed that plants do not like certain noises and will move away from particular sounds.

Lead researcher Monica Gagliano said water was a basic need for a plants’ survival, and the study showed that sound played a significant role in helping plants cater to this need.

“We used the common garden pea plant (Pisumsativum) as the model for our study and put the plant into a container which had two tubes at the base, giving it a choice of two directions for the growth of its roots,” Dr Gagliano said.

“We then exposed the plant to a series of sounds, including white noise, running water and then a recording of running water under each tube, and observed its behaviour.”

The scientists found that the plants could tell where the source of the water was and their root systems grew towards that source based on sensing the sound of running water alone.

“It also was surprising and extraordinary to see that the plant could actually tell when the sound of running water was a recording and when it was real and that the plant did not like the recorded sound,” she said.

She said when moisture was readily available in the soil and the plant did not need water, the plant did not respond to the sound of running water.

The research has important implications for understanding the behaviour of plants and how it affects their survival.

“It indicates that the invasion of sewer pipes by tree roots may be based on the plants ‘hearing’ water and shows that their perception of their surroundings is much greater and far more complex than we previously thought,” Dr Gagliano said.

“In the animal world there is a strong call to understand how acoustic pollution adversely affects populations, but now we know plants also need to be part of these studies.”

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