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Author Topic: Can animals/plants predict future weather conditions?  (Read 6112 times)

Offline pete_inthehills

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If the migratory birds leave early for their warmer wintering grounds and autumn berrys are ripe long before usual, are they predicting a bad winter or responding to a bad summer?


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Offline WylieE

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Can animals/plants predict future weather conditions?
« Reply #1 on: 07/09/2007 06:09:04 »
Hi Pete,

 I would think it might be more accurate to say that some animals and plants are just more sensitive to subtle cues about weather conditions that we might not notice.

 For example, some trees have leaves that are very sensitive to changes in humidity and will curve upward when it becomes more humid.  Increases in humidity are usually associated with rain, so the trees usually curl up their leaves before it rains.  So if you saw the leaves curling upward you could predict that it was going to rain.  Just like you could with a barometer.

So in your example of berries that ripen early, these plants would be responding to recent (early summer) and current conditions- factors such as rainfall, humidity, temperature, etc. can all affect fruit setting.  So suppose that drought causes a particular berry to ripen early and in a particular region a bad winter often follows a dry summer.  Someone would see the berries ripen early and a bad winter would follow.  If this happened a few times people would remember this and next time they saw the berries ripen early they might predict a bad winter based on the state of the berries.  However, we have to remember that it is the people doing the predicting, the plants are just adjusting to current conditions.     

  So. . I'm not sure that predicting is the right word for what the plants and animals do.  Instead it is probably better to say that plants and animals are often good indicators of subtle cues that we might miss- like the canary in the mine shaft- and it would probably be to our advantage to pay a bit of attention to them and make predictions based on them.

Good question!
Colleen 
 

another_someone

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Can animals/plants predict future weather conditions?
« Reply #2 on: 07/09/2007 15:05:39 »
  So. . I'm not sure that predicting is the right word for what the plants and animals do.  Instead it is probably better to say that plants and animals are often good indicators of subtle cues that we might miss- like the canary in the mine shaft- and it would probably be to our advantage to pay a bit of attention to them and make predictions based on them.

Why is 'predicting' not the right word?

When we look at the barometer, and predict a change in the weather, as you say, we are doing the same thing, and are happy to call it prediction?

To say that they are not concious of their prediction is valid - but nonetheless they are processing current information and acting to anticipate future events based upon present knowledge.
 

Offline WylieE

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Can animals/plants predict future weather conditions?
« Reply #3 on: 07/09/2007 15:21:24 »
Hi George,
 I just mean that the animals aren't predicting, WE are predicting based on their signals!  For what we do predicting is absolutely the right word.
Colleen
 

another_someone

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Can animals/plants predict future weather conditions?
« Reply #4 on: 07/09/2007 15:39:31 »
Hi George,
 I just mean that the animals aren't predicting, WE are predicting based on their signals!  For what we do predicting is absolutely the right word.
Colleen

The only argument I can see that you might use is that the animals and plants are not concious of their predictive responses (although this may not necessarily be true for all animals - I don't think we really understand conciousness enough to say which animals are or are not concious).

It is not merely other animals that can sense weather changes (without artificial tools).  I can step outside my front door, and feel the humidity, and say to myself that "I think it will rain soon".  That same feeling is all that any other animal will have, the difference is whether they can express the feeling in terms of language (I know of no experiment that has shown that even more sophisticated animals, such as chimpanzees, have been able to express ideas about future weather in their restricted language capabilities - although there is still a great deal we are learning about how much chimpanzees can communicate).
 

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Can animals/plants predict future weather conditions?
« Reply #4 on: 07/09/2007 15:39:31 »

 

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