Behavioral ecology - Original research


, Volume 175, Issue 1, pp 63-72

First online:

Experience teaches plants to learn faster and forget slower in environments where it matters

  • Monica GaglianoAffiliated withCentre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Animal Biology, University of Western Australia Email author 
  • , Michael RentonAffiliated withSchool of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia
  • , Martial DepczynskiAffiliated withAIMS, The Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia
  • , Stefano MancusoAffiliated withLINV, Department of Plant, Soil and Environmental Science, University of Firenze

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The nervous system of animals serves the acquisition, memorization and recollection of information. Like animals, plants also acquire a huge amount of information from their environment, yet their capacity to memorize and organize learned behavioral responses has not been demonstrated. In Mimosa pudica—the sensitive plant—the defensive leaf-folding behaviour in response to repeated physical disturbance exhibits clear habituation, suggesting some elementary form of learning. Applying the theory and the analytical methods usually employed in animal learning research, we show that leaf-folding habituation is more pronounced and persistent for plants growing in energetically costly environments. Astonishingly, Mimosa can display the learned response even when left undisturbed in a more favourable environment for a month. This relatively long-lasting learned behavioural change as a result of previous experience matches the persistence of habituation effects observed in many animals.


Behaviour Ecological trade-offs Information Anti-predator responses Learning Memory