The Unseen Arms Race: Plants & Insects

There’s a war going on. One in our own backyards, right under our noses, but goes unnoticed.

It16299658_1239306876159478_7282972681855941421_o is the ongoing battle of insect versus plant.

Plants have a serious disadvantage when it comes to protecting themselves. They can’t move. They root wherever nature, or we, put them. If things change in the environment and conditions become less than favorable, they’re stuck. The same goes for predators, all the insects and animals looking to make a meal out of them. So how do you defend yourself when you’re immobile?

 

You develop spines, spikes or thorns, unpalatable hairs on leaves, bitter-tasting toxins and other chemical defenses, among others, anything to make you a less desirable target. The goal? To survive and reproduce.

Yet this isn’t the end. Just by developing ways of deterring predators it doesn’t mean you’re safe because the insects and animals attacking you are doing their own adapting, finding ways around them.

It’s this battle that leads to changes in both plant and animal species until they balance each other out, when one can’t outcompete the other.

It also leads to specialization, which is sometimes very beneficial to the plants. This is especially true with our pollinating insects. Flowering plants and insects have co-evolved, or adapted through time together, to best suit each other. The plants have created the best ways to lure in particular insects. These insects in return, have found the best ways to collect the plant’s pollen and nectar. The result is an ecological win-win, the plants get pollinated, the insects get food for themselves and their larvae. Both species benefit and thrive. There are good examples of this beneficial co-existence in this blog post by the Washington Native Plant Society.

So the next time you take a stroll through a park or a garden, take a closer look. There’s a lot going on all around you, all the time.

Article by Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day Alliance

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