Plants “Gamble” Wisely With Survival On The Line

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You give enough money to most humans to gamble with and they will almost certainly go broke, while there are exceptions humans are largely not good gamblers. If you need proof of this go to a Indian reservation casino in a rural area of the United States at 2AM and report your findings.

Plants make risky, albeit intelligent, decisions when faced with issues of survival

According to a study published late this week in the journal Current Biology, plants apparently assess risks better than most humans and certainly Jim Kramer. While you could argue that Mr. Kramer doesn’t have much in the way of a brain or the complex nervous systems that see most people speaking outside of a yell on occasion, plants certainly aren’t in possession of these two physical attributes.

The study shows that plants would have at least been interesting contestants on Monty Hall’s “Let’s Make A Deal” when presented with the unknown beneath a bottomless box or behind a curtain. If plants are living in soil without sufficient nutrient and presented with the option to live elsewhere, even if the new “home’s soil” is unknown, they will largely opt out of their present locations with poor conditions in favor of the unknown.

“It raises a question, not about plants, but about animals and humans, because if plants can solve this problem simply,” then maybe humans can, too, said Hagai Shemesh, a plant ecologist at Tel-Hai College in Israel who joined is colleagues in presenting their work.  “We have a very fancy brain, but maybe most of the time we’re not using it.”

Oxford University behavioral ecologist, Alex Kacelnik, along with Dr. Shemesh grew pea plants before splitting their root system between two pots of different soils. While the two pots had the same nutrients over time (average), one of the pots nutrient levels remained constant while the other varied considerably more than the other. The researchers then began playing with the soil so that the averages were high or low at the same time. But when the average was low in both pots the peas put down more roots in the pot that varied more, while the two comfortably put down more roots in the more consistent soil when nutrient levels were high without exception.

“They are less than pea brains, they are no brains,” said Dr. Kacelnik in an interview with the New York Times. “But they did it.”

Simple evolution or just smarter than humans?

Clearly plants aren’t smarter than humans but they may well understand risk better than we do.

Animals with a brain, of for that matter insects, seem to prefer stability when it comes to survival and things are going well, but will take risks when things are going poorly.

This brings us back to the casino where you see people make bigger bets when they are losing, which doesn’t make much sense. On a blackjack table, players prefer a 25% of losing $200 to a certain $50 but will still buy insurance to cover a 25% chance of losing $200 even if it means shelling out $50 for it. The math is the same, but players seemingly “feel” differently and this confounds behavioral researchers. It simply shouldn’t make a difference when the probability is the same.

Clearly, this study shows something we know, plant’s simply don’t feel and are willing to take that occasional risk in hard times.

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