The plant body as a network of semi-autonomous agents: A review

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Plants can solve amazingly difficult tasks while adjusting their growth and development to the environment. They can explore and exploit several resources simultaneously, even when the distributions of these vary in space and time. The systematic study of plant behaviour goes back to Darwin's book The power of movement in plants. Current research has highlighted that modularity is a key to understanding plant behaviour, as the production, functional specialization and death of modules enable the plant to adjust its movement to the environment. The adjustment is assisted by a flow of information and resources among the modules. Experiments have yielded many results about these processes in various plant species. Theoretical research, however, has lagged behind the empirical studies, possibly owing to the lack of a proper modelling framework that could encompass the high number of components and interactions. In this paper, I propose such a framework on the basis of network theory, viewing the plant as a group of connected, semi-autonomous agents. I review some characteristic plant responses to the environment through changing the states of agents and/or links. I also point out some unexplored areas, in which a dialogue between plant science and network theory could be mutually inspiring. This article is part of the theme issue 'Liquid brains, solid brains: How distributed cognitive architectures process information'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180371
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1774
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Adaptation to heterogeneity
  • Agent-based model
  • Clonal plant
  • Dynamic network
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Plant development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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