Applying behavioral-ecological theory to plant defense: light-dependent movement in Mimosa pudica suggests a trade-off between predation risk and energetic reward.
Plants make foraging decisions that are dependent on ecological conditions, such as resource availability and distribution. Despite the field of plant behavioral ecology gaining momentum, ecologists still know little about what factors impact plant behavior, especially light-foraging behavior. We made use of the behavioral reaction norm approach to investigate light foraging in a plant species that exhibits rapid movement: Mimosa pudica. We explored how herbivore avoidance behavior in M. pudica (which closes its leaflets temporarily when disturbed) is affected by an individual's energy state and the quality of the current environment and also repeatedly tested the behavior of individuals from two seed sources to determine whether individuals exhibit a "personality" (i.e., behavioral syndrome). We found that when individuals are in a low-energy state, they adopt a riskier light-foraging strategy, opening leaflets faster, and not closing leaflets as often in response to a disturbance. However, when plants are in a high-energy state, they exhibit a plastic light-foraging strategy dependent on environment quality. Although we found no evidence that individuals exhibit behavioral syndromes, we found that individuals from different seed sources consistently behave differently from each other. Our results suggest that plants are capable of making state-dependent decisions and that plant decision making is complex, depending on the interplay between internal and external factors.