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Plants Wittily Force Fungi To Cooperate

If you used to think of plants as green, peaceful, not-looking-for-conflicts-or-advantages kind of creature, think again. A new study shows how they are able to make economically-sound decisions by forcing symbiotic fungi to cooperate more in their interactions. The paper is published in Ecology Letters.


Plants will often be in close partnership with species of fungi for symbiotic interactions; for instance, they will provide the latter with carbohydrates in return for phosphates. But, they will not team up with just about any fungal species. Rather, they have been endowed with the ability to makes less helpful fungi to be more cooperative, or as cooperative as other fungal partners. Furthermore, they can force a ‘lazier’ fungi species to increase in cooperation.

The fungi are described as being of two types in the new study conducted by Pascal Niklaus and Bernhard Schmid from the University of Zurich: a meaner one because it supplies a smaller quantity of phosphates per unit of carbohydrate, and a more generous type that gives more phosphates in exchange of the carbohydrates. In this case, the plant will be able to switch tactics and provide the former with fewer carbs.

If the intelligence of the plant does not amaze you yet, wait to hear this. The plant will also be able to starve the less cooperative fungi by decreasing the nutrient supply so as to force it to give back more phosphates. The meaner fungi ends up giving as much as the generous one. Plants are thus shown to be exploiting the competition that exists between two fungal partners.

That’s a wonderful insight into economics from the part of the plant. Plants would hence be ideal for testing general market-based theories, say the authors. They would make great models because their decisions are made by taking physiological processes into consideration and are thus not biased by subjective thought.

Ah, humans, they will always find a way to exploit other living organisms for their own use.


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