for National Geographic News
Plants have family values, too, it seems, with new research suggesting they can recognize close relatives in order to work together.
An ability to tell family from strangers is well known in animals, allowing them to cooperate and share resources, but plants may possess similar social skills, scientists believe.
Susan Dudley and Amanda File of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, report they have demonstrated for the first time that plants can recognize their kin.
This suggests that plants, though lacking cognition and memory, are capable of complex social interactions.
"Plants have this kind of hidden but complicated social life," Dudley said.
The study found plants from the same species of beach-dwelling wildflower grew aggressively alongside unrelated neighbors but were less competitive when they shared soil with their siblings.
Sea rocket, a North American species, showed more vigorous root growth when planted in pots with strangers than when raised with relatives from the same maternal family, the study found.
This is an example of kin selection, a behavior common in animals in which closely related individuals take a group approach to succeeding in their environment, the researchers said.
Kin selection also applies to competition, the scientists added, because if family members compete less with each other, the group will do better overall.
"Everywhere you look, plants are growing right up next to other plants," Dudley said.
Usually it's a case of each plant for itself, she said.
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