Smoking is (good) for the birds

Back in the 1980s, it became popular for biologists to consider plant secondary compounds in understanding inter-species relationships and other ecological matters. I was doing my thesis research at the time, and it even affected what I was doing, as the wild world was being reconceptualized in terms of tannins and alkaloids, seed edators and dispersers, and so on. I remember taking an advanced seminar in plant-animal interaction, in preparation for my own study of human-plant interactions. The first thing I learned was that most animal-plant interaction did not involve mammals, or even birds. Insects ruled. We spent most of the rest of the semester dealing with grasshoppers. At one point, for some reason, we had a debate. It was the heady, politically charged days of Roe v. Wade, and so we debated the issue of choice. The question was, did female plants choose which pollen would fertilize their ova, or were they merely raped by the patriarchal male plants? Luckily, I was chosen to be on the pro-choice side. We wore the appropriate buttons and hats and carried signs to the debate. Also, it turns out that we were scientifically correct; female plants exert considerable choice in whom they mate with, it turns out.

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