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Nature, Too, Says "Call Me, Maybe"

Humans aren't the only communication aficionados.

Think human's technology trumps nature's? Think again. A recent study released by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Ecology shows that, just like us, arthropods have a pretty impressive text message and voicemail service. 

Soil fungi, like the kind ragwort plants grow in, provide the perfect medium for inter- and intra-species communication. Insects, the researchers found, alter the chemical composition of soil surrounding any plant they so choose to feed on. Plants growing nearby pick up on these chemical changes and alter their own structure, accordingly. Insects who land on these neighboring plants pick up and continue to pass on these signals. 

How long these messages last is still a question that study author Olga Kostenko and colleagues are seeking to answer. But she's pretty sure "plants are actually decoding a 'voicemail' message from the past to the next generation of plant-feeding insects, and their enemies."

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We might prefer to differentiate ourselves from other vertebrate species. But this study, like others, shows that pretty much every living being just can't help but say, in their own way, "call me, maybe." 

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References:

Kostenko, O., van de Voorde, T.F.J., Mulder, P.P.J., van der Putten, W.H., Bezemer, T.M. (2012). Legacy effects of aboveground-belowground interactions. Ecology Letters. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01801.x

Katherine Schreiber is a former Staff Editor at Psychology Today.

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