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Plants emit informative airborne sounds under stress

By I. Khait, Ohad Lewin-Epstein, R. Sharon, K. Saban, R. Perelman, A. Boonman, Y. Yovel, L. Hadany

Posted 28 Dec 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/507590

Stressed plants show altered phenotypes, including changes in color, smell, and shape. Yet, the possibility that plants emit airborne sounds when stressed – similarly to many animals – has not been investigated. Here we show, to our knowledge for the first time, that stressed plants emit airborne sounds that can be recorded remotely, both in acoustic chambers and in greenhouses. We recorded ∼65 dBSPL ultrasonic sounds 10 cm from tomato and tobacco plants, implying that these sounds could be detected by some organisms from up to several meters away. We developed machine learning models that were capable of distinguishing between plant sounds and general noises, and identifying the condition of the plants – dry, cut, or intact – based solely on the emitted sounds. Our results suggest that animals, humans, and possibly even other plants, could use sounds emitted by a plant to gain information about the plant’s condition. More investigation on plant bioacoustics in general and on sound emission in plants in particular may open new avenues for understanding plants and their interactions with the environment, and it may also have a significant impact on agriculture.

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