What is Botany and Why are Plants Important?

What is Botany?
Botany, also called plant science or plant biology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biology. A botanist is a scientist who specializes in this field of study. The term “botany” comes from the Ancient Greek word βοτάνη (botane) meaning “pasture”, “grass”, or “fodder”; βοτάνη is in turn derived from βόσκειν (boskein), “to feed” or “to graze”. A person who studies plants may be called a botanist or a plant scientist.

What are Plants?
Plants are living multicellular organisms of the kingdom Plantae. Plants are eukaryotes that have cell walls made of cellulose. They develop from multicellular embryos and carry out photosynthesis using the green pigments chlorophyll a and b.

Why are plants important?
Without plants, complex animal life (including humans) could not survive.
All living things are dependent either directly or indirectly on the energy produced by photosynthesis & the byproduct of this process – oxygen.
Plants also reduce the amount of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere, reduce erosion, and influence water levels and quality.

Trees Make Ants Chemically Dependent, Turn Them Into Indentured Servants

Trees Make Ants Chemically Dependent, Turn Them Into Indentured Servants

November 12, 2013 | by Lisa Winter
IFL Science

Ants on Acacia Tree

Ants on Acacia Tree (Photo credit: Ryan Somma)

There are all kinds of mutually beneficial relationships that exist in nature in which two seemingly unconnected species live in harmony and provide vital services for one another. This does not always result in both parties benefiting equally – but as long as it still works, it keeps on going. A recent study has shown that certain Central American ants live on and defend a particular tree not because they want to, but because enzymes in the tree’s nectar have made it impossible for them to get food anywhere else. The research team was led by Martin Heil of Cinvestav Unidad Irapuato in Mexico and was published in Ecology Letters.

The acacia tree is covered in pods that can be taken by insects. Colonies of Pseudomyrmex ferrugineus patrol the tree, protecting the pods. Some species of acacia tree even have thorns large enough for the ants to move into. In turn for their defense against predators like termites, the tree produces nectar for the ants. The nectar is rich in sucrose, a type of sugar. Using an enzyme called invertase, the ants break up the large sucrose molecules into smaller bits which can then be used to generate energy. About eight years ago, Heil’s previous research showed that the adult ants don’t even make invertase, but it is produced by the tree and can be found in the nectar. It is a classic textbook example of mutualism, or so we all thought. The truth, as it seems, is a bit more complicated.

Five years ago, Heil found out that young ants do produce invertase, but that ability is lost at some point during life. In recent years, he has searched for the answer which, he would find out, almost seems like one of the biggest betrayals in mutualism history: the tree stops the ants from producing their own digestive enzymes. Included in the sucrose and invertase is chitinase: an enzyme that blocks invertase production.

While it is true that the ants protect the tree in exchange for food, they do so because they have no other options. They are completely unable to eat from any other source, because they rely on the invertase from the acacia’s nectar. So, the tree gives them exactly what they need to live, but only because it made them invertase-deficient in the first place. The tree makes out like a bandit by having armies of ants to protect it, who will never be able to leave.

This methodology has vague (and highly anthropomorphized) connotations to Münchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP) in which someone believes they are sick and have a dedicated caretaker, but it turns out that the caretaker was the one making them sick in the first place. In the case of the acacia tree, it is damning the ants to an eternity of servitude on top of blocking the invertase production to ensure it is the ants’ only food source.

On a very basic level, however, this is astoundingly impressive. Solely through genetic mutations over countless generations, the acacia tree has adapted a way to protect itself from predators and the ants won’t be able to leave, leaving the tree vulnerable. It just happened to evolve this way, which is absolutely amazing. You win this one, acacia tree.

Roman rise and fall ‘recorded in trees’

14 January 2011 Last updated at 12:19 ET

By Mark Kinver

The study offers a link between changes to the climate and the rise and fall of human societies

An extensive study of tree growth rings says there could be a link between the rise and fall of past civilisations and sudden shifts in Europe’s climate.

A team of researchers based their findings on data from 9,000 wooden artifacts from the past 2,500 years.

They found that periods of warm, wet summers coincided with prosperity, while political turmoil occurred during times of climate instability.

The findings have been published online by the journal Science.

“Looking back on 2,500 years, there are examples where climate change impacted human history,” co-author Ulf Buntgen, a paleoclimatologist at the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape, told the Science website.

Ring record

The team capitalised on a system used to date material unearthed during excavations.

“Distinct drying in the 3rd Century paralleled a period of serious crisis in the western Roman empire” – Ulf Buntgen

“Archaeologists have developed oak ring width chronologies from Central Europe that cover nearly the entire Holocene and have used them for the purpose of dating artefacts, historical buildings, antique artwork and furniture,” they wrote.

“Chronologies of living and relict oaks may reflect distinct patterns of summer precipitation and drought.”

The team looked at how weather over the past couple of centuries affected living trees’ growth rings.

During good growing seasons, when water and nutrients are in plentiful supply, trees form broad rings, with their boundaries relatively far apart.

But in unfavourable conditions, such as drought, the rings grow in much tighter formation.

The researchers then used this data to reconstruct annual weather patterns from the growth rings preserved in the artefacts.

Once they had developed a chronology stretching back over the past 2,500 years, they identified a link with prosperity levels in past societies, such as the Roman Empire.

“Wet and warm summers occurred during periods of Roman and medieval prosperity. Increased climate variability from 250-600 AD coincided with the demise of the western Roman empire and the turmoil of the migration period,” the team reported.

“Distinct drying in the 3rd Century paralleled a period of serious crisis in the western Roman empire marked by barbarian invasion, political turmoil and economic dislocation in several provinces of Gaul.”

Dr Buntgen explained: “We were aware of these super-big data sets, and we brought them together and analyzed them in a new way to get the climate signal.

“If you have enough wood, the dating is secure. You just need a lot of material and a lot of rings.”