Published on Fri Dec 28 2018

Flowers respond to pollinator sound within minutes by increasing nectar sugar concentration.

Veits, M., Khait, I., Obolski, U., Zinger, E., Boonman, A., Goldshtein, A., Saban, K., Ben-Dor, U., Estlein, P., Kabat, A., Peretz, D., Ratzersdorfer, I., Krylov, S., Chamovitz, D., Sapir, Y., Yovel, Y., Hadany, L.

Oenothera drummondii flowers responded to the playback sound of a flying bee or to synthetic sound-signals at similar frequencies. The flowers vibrated mechanically in response to these sounds, suggesting a plausible mechanism where the flower serves as the plants auditory sensory organ.

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Abstract

Can plants hear? That is, can they sense airborne sounds and respond to them? Here we show that Oenothera drummondii flowers, exposed to the playback sound of a flying bee or to synthetic sound-signals at similar frequencies, produced sweeter nectar within 3 minutes, potentially increasing the chances of cross pollination. We found that the flowers vibrated mechanically in response to these sounds, suggesting a plausible mechanism where the flower serves as the plants auditory sensory organ. Both the vibration and the nectar response were frequency-specific: the flowers responded to pollinator sounds, but not to higher frequency sound. Our results document for the first time that plants can rapidly respond to pollinator sounds in an ecologically relevant way. Sensitivity of plants to pollinator sound can affect plant-pollinator interactions in a wide range of ways: Plants could allocate their resources more adequately, focusing on the time of pollinator activity; pollinators would then be better rewarded per time unit; flower shape may be selected for its effect on hearing ability, and not only on signaling; and pollinators may evolve to make sounds that the flowers can hear. Finally, our results suggest that plants may be affected by other sounds as well, including antropogenic ones.