- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Yes, plants can communicate.
And that's exactly what ecologist Rick Karban, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will discuss at the LASER-UC Davis (Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous) event on Thursday night, Oct. 9 in Room 3001 of UC Davis Plant and Environmental Sciences Building.
Karban will speak on "Plant Communication" from 8:10 to 8:45. He is one of four speakers booked from 7 to 9 p.m. The event, free and open to the public, begins at 6:30 with socializing and networking. It is sponsored by the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program.
Karban drew international scientific and media attention with his research on “Kin Recognition Affects Plant Communication and Defense,” published in February 2013 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. He and four colleagues showed that kin have distinct advantages when it comes to plant communication, just as “the ability of many animals to recognize kin has allowed them to evolve diverse cooperative behaviors,” he told the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in a news release.
“When sagebrush plants are damaged by their herbivores, they emit volatiles that cause their neighbors to adjust their defenses,” Karban said. "These adjustments reduce rates of damage and increase growth and survival of the neighbors.”
“Why would plants emit these volatiles which become public information?” he asked. “Our results indicate that the volatile cues are not completely public, that related individuals responded more effectively to the volatiles than did strangers. This bias makes it less likely that emitters will aid strangers and more likely that receivers will respond to relatives.”
Karban was featured in Michael Pollan's piece on “The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants,” published last December in The New Yorker.” He is also spotlighted on YouTube.
A member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology since 1982, Karban received his bachelor's degree in environmental studies from Haverford (Pa.) College, and his doctorate in biology from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and has published more than 100 journal articles and two books.
Other speakers at the Oct. 9th event are:
7 to 7:25 p.m.: Tami Spector, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of San Francisco, whose topic is “The Molecular Elusive."
7:25 to 7:50: Katharine Hawthorne, a San Francisco-based dancer and choreographer, who will discuss “Analog Bodies”
8:40 to 9: Cody Ross, a postdoctoral cultural and statistical anthropologist working at the Santa Fe Institute and UC Davis, whose topic is “Art Is Offensive: Integrative Art and Social Justice.”
The event promises to be educational and informative, according to moderator/organizer Anna Davidson ot the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, who recently received her doctorate. She studies fruit tree ecophysiology and is an instructor with the UC Davis Art Science Fusion Program.