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Home / Science / BBC – Future – Why & # 39; plant blindness & # 39; important – and what you can do about it

BBC – Future – Why & # 39; plant blindness & # 39; important – and what you can do about it

Which animal did you last see? Do you remember color, size and shape? Could you easily distinguish it from other animals?

Well, what about the last plant you saw?

If your mental images of animals are sharper than those of plants, you are not alone. Children recognize that animals are living things before they can recognize that plants also live. Reminder tests also show that study participants remember animal images better than plants. For example, a US study tested "attention blinking" – the ability to detect one of two rapid fire images – using images of plants, animals, and unrelated objects. This showed that the participants discovered images of animals more accurately than plants.

This tendency is so widespread that in 1

998 Elisabeth Schussler and James Wandersee, a pair of American botanist and biology teacher, formulated a term for it: "plant blindness". They called it "the inability to see or notice the plants in their own environment."

Plant blindness does not surprisingly lead to undervaluation of plants – and to a limited interest in plant protection. Plant biology courses around the world are being shut down at a staggering pace, and public funds for plant science are drying up. While studies on the extent of plant blindness and its change over time have not been made, increasing urbanization and time spent on equipment mean that the "natural deficit disorder" (the harm caused to humans by alienation of nature) ) increases. And with less plant exposure, there is greater plant blindness. Schussler has stated: "Man can only (visually) recognize what he already knows."

Environmental protection is important to the environment. But it is also important for human health in the end

This is problematic. Plant protection is important to the environment. But ultimately, it's also important to human health.

Plant research is critical to many scientific breakthroughs, from harder food crops to more effective medicines. More than 28,000 plant species are used medicinally, including anticancer drugs and blood thinners. (BBC Future recently wrote a recent example of how fungi could help us fight cancer.)

Experimenting with plants also offers an ethical advantage over some forms of animal testing: versatile techniques in areas such as Editing genomes can be refined with plants that are easy and inexpensive to grow and control. For example, genome sequencing of Arabidopsis, a flowering plant important in biological research, was a milestone not only in plant genetics but also in genome sequencing in general.

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Considering the importance of plants for our survival, they have always been, how did it happen that humans became "plant blind"?

Green Vision

There are cognitive and cultural reasons why animals, even animals that are not objectively more important to humans than plants, should be distinguished.

Part of it is how we categorize the world. "The brain is basically a difference detector," explain Schussler and Wandersee. Since plants hardly move, grow close to each other, and often resemble each other in color, our brains tend to group them together. With about 10 million bits of visual data per second transmitted from the human retina, the human visual system filters out non-threatening things like plants and summarizes them.

This is not limited to humans. Limited attention can even influence the way blue jays make plants and insects visually visible in their environment.

Then we prefer the similarity to biological behaviors: As primates, we tend to notice creatures that are most similar to us. "In my experience with apes they are generally more interested in creatures that are more similar in appearance," says Fumihiro Kano, a monkey psychologist from Kyoto University, Japan. As with humans, this visual preference has a social element. "Apes of reared apes are more interested in human images than in non-human images, including their own species," says Kano.

Human societies are also encouraged by the idea that animals are generally more interesting and visible than plants. We name animals and assign them human characteristics. We often use animals as sports team mascots. And we are set for the individual variation among the animals: such as the personality of a dog or the unique color pattern of a butterfly.

People are more supportive of conservation for species with human-like characteristics

Animals see as similar – or similar – encourages us to be compassionate. In conservation decisions, that's the key. Most of us feel called upon not to protect polar bears, not because they go through a reasonable list of reasons we need them, but because they resonate in our hearts, says environmental psychologist Kathryn Williams of the University of Melbourne. Also in animal welfare certain charismatic animals (especially large mammals with eyes facing the front) receive the lion's share. In fact, Williams' research has shown that people are more supportive of efforts to conserve species with human-like characteristics.

The challenge for plants is greater. For example, in 2011, US plants accounted for 57% of the list of endangered species. However, they received less than 4% of the endangered species.

"Building these emotional relationships with ecosystems and species and the entire plant is critical for crop protection," says Williams. Of course, science is not & # 39; A zero-sum game in which more interest and money in one set of organisms automatically leads to a reduction in resources elsewhere. But as with any kind of bias, the realization is that this is the first step to reducing it.

Less Plant Blindness

One key to reducing plant blindness is increasing the abundance and the different ways we see plants. This should start early – said Professor Knoxville, professor of biology at the University of Tennessee, "before students say they are bored with plants". One citizen science project to help with this is TreeVersity, which asks citizens to classify images of plants from Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum.

Everyday interactions with plants are the best strategy, says Schussler. She lists about crop protection in local parks and horticulture.

Plants could also be more strongly emphasized in art. Dawn Sanders from the Swedish University of Gothenburg, who has worked on environmental art projects in the Gothenburg Botanical Garden, has found that images and stories are important in getting students to interact with plants and ask questions about plant experiences , for example, get plants after the age.

Sanders' work also points to cultural differences. "Plant blindness is not equally applicable to all people," she says. Compared to the initial research on US students, she says, "We've found that our Swedish students are connected to plants through memory, emotions, and beauty, especially in midsummer and early spring days." For example, Vitsippa (wood anemone) is valued as a spring messenger.

In India, the connection between man and plant may be more of religion and medicine. Geetanjali Sachdev researches botanical art and education at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore. "Their value will certainly be experienced on a visceral level," she says about plants. "We can not escape that, because plants are so intertwined in so many areas of Indian cultural life."

Sachdev actually documents the ubiquity of plant motifs in Indian cities: from lotus flowers painted on water tankers to plants Kolam (Powder ) Drawings on the floor.

These images extend beyond flowers, which often dominate unforgettable encounters with plants in Western countries. "From a mythological point of view, trees, leaves and flowers are important, but from a medical point of view in Ayurveda (an Indian form of traditional medicine) many other parts of plants have value – leaves, roots, flowers and seeds," she says

Plant blindness is neither general nor unavoidable. "Although our human brain can be wired for plant blindness, we can overcome it with greater attention," says Schussler.

Williams is also optimistic about increasing the empathy of the plants. "It's not implausible at all," she says. "It's about fantasy." Even fictitious plant figures emerge. Two from the comic world are McPedro, the Scottish-Irish cactus from the web comic Girls with Slingshots and Marvel's superhero tree Groot, who has sparked some bizarre discussions about biology.

The food supply of the world is more than ever before a combination of population growth, water scarcity, reduced agricultural area and climate change. By researching biofuels, plants are also important as a potential source of renewable energy. In other words, it is important that you are able to discover, learn from, and innovate with our green friends. Our future depends on it.

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