Can plants sense natural airborne sounds and respond to them rapidly? We show that Oenothera drummondii flowers, exposed to playback sound of a flying bee or to synthetic sound signals at similar frequencies, produce sweeter nectar within 3 min, potentially increasing the chances of cross pollination. We found that the flowers vibrated mechanically in response to these sounds, suggesting a plausible mechanism where the flower serves as an auditory sensory organ. Both the vibration and the nectar response were frequency-specific: the flowers responded and vibrated to pollinator sounds, but not to higher frequency sound. Our results document for the first time that plants can rapidly respond to pollinator sounds in an ecologically relevant way. Potential implications include plant resource allocation, the evolution of flower shape and the evolution of pollinators sound. Finally, our results suggest that plants may be affected by other sounds as well, including anthropogenic ones.
Keywords: Communication; nectar; plant bioacoustics; plant-pollinator interactions; pollination; signalling; vibration.
© 2019 The Authors. Ecology Letters published by CNRS and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.