The Society for Plant Neurobiology was formed after the First International Symposium on Plant Neurobiology was held in Florence in 2005. This, and each of the subsequent symposia, were scientifically energizing and exciting, drawing a diverse array of participants.
Plant Neurobiology describes a newly named, but also old and fascinating field in plant biology addressing the physiological basis of adaptive behavior in plants. Perhaps this field could be called “Sensory Biology in Plants” or something similar. However, these names don’t quite cover topics like plant cytology and anatomy, adaptive plant behavior, signaling and communication in symbiosis and pathogenesis, or newly emerging topics like for instance plant immunity, plant memory and learning, plant-plant communication, as well as plant intelligence.
Our choice of the term Plant Neurobiology is described in Brenner et al. (2006) where we note some obvious analogies between classical neurobiology and some aspects of the physiology of plants. For example, plants have long been known to respond sensitively to environmental stimuli by movement and changes in morphology, to be electrically excitable, to display rapid electrical responses (action potentials) to environmental stimuli, to synthesize numerous organic molecules that act as neurochemicals in other organisms, and to use hormonal signaling pathways to coordinate development, morphology and thus, accomplish behavioral responses to environmental, communicative, and ecological contexts.
For a better understanding of the world around us, it is important that we develop and share the growing understanding of plants as dynamic and highly sensitive organisms. No longer can plants be viewed and portrayed as passive entities merely subject to environmental forces, as ‘automata’-like organisms based only on reflexes and optimised solely for accumulation of photosynthate. With a fuller understanding of signaling and communication within and among plants, it becomes clear that these sensitive biological organisms actively and competitively forage for limited resources, both above and below ground. In addition, plants accurately compute their circumstances, use sophisticated cost benefit analysis, and they take tightly controlled actions to mitigate and control diverse environmental stressors. Plants also emerge as capable of discriminating positive and negative experiences, and ‘learning’ from their past experiences. Plants use this cognitively acquired information to update their behavior in order to survive present and future challenges of their environment. Moreover, plants are also capable of refined recognition of self and non-self, and are territorial in behavior.
This Plant Neurobiological view sees plants as information-processing organisms with complex communications of various types occurring throughout the individual plant. What we need to find out is how their information is gathered and processed, what routes do data take (if not via ‘nerves’ sensu strictu), and how are adaptive responses integrated and coordinated, how are these events ‘remembered’ in order to allow realistic predictions of future using past experiences.
Last but not least, plants are as sophisticated in behavior as animals but this potential has been masked effectively because it operates on time scales many orders of magnitude slower than in animals. At the very least, this quality should make it easier for experimental plant scientists to uncover the mysteries of their neurobiological function and behavioral responses.