In DepthEcology

Do plants favor their kin?

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Science  04 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6422, pp. 15-16
DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6422.15

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More than a decade ago, a Canadian biologist planted the seed of the idea that plants help close relatives. Many plant biologists regarded it as heretical—plants lack the nervous systems that enable animals to recognize kin recognition, so how can they know their relatives? But with a series of recent findings, the notion that plants really do care for their most genetically close peers—in a quiet, plant-y way—is taking root. Some species constrain how far their roots spread, others change how many flowers they produce, and a few tilt or shift their leaves to minimize shading of neighboring plants, favoring related individuals. The new work may even have a practical side, suggesting ways to increase crop yields.