Plants Foreshadowed Animal Life, But Did They Also Create It?
Is The Dominant Species on Earth a Tree?
Evolutionary theory tells us that, in general, life on Earth has developed from the more primitive levels to the advanced stages. Most people would assume that this also means plants overall are considered more primitive organisms than animals. If plants existed first on Earth, perhaps for billions of years as stable life forms before animal life arose, what was the impetus for animals to arrive on the scene at all?
The single greatest universal advantage animals have over plants is their ability to move from place to place at will. Plants must rely on natural forces such as wind, rain, floods and the force of volcanic eruptions to spread their offspring to far-flung regions of the globe. Plants also can and do rely on animals for this function however, by the ingestion of seed carried in fruits, berries and vegetables. So what was the underlying factor that brought about the rise of animal life on the planet? Was it in fact a need plants themselves had for animal life to serve as a type of carrier organism for offspring?
We tend to think of primitive life forms on Earth as being largely lacking in any form of intelligence or lacking in any innate ability to see into and prepare for the future. We make this deduction based on our observations of natural behavior. We don’t see plants orchestrating ways to propagate, or protect themselves say, from the cataclysm of a forest fire… Does this mean they don’t actually do these things, or does it mean that we are just not aware enough to notice how they do them?
Forest biology researchers have begun programs to protect trees for instance from rapidly spreading diseases. They do this by taking seedlings and planting them in new, disease free regions where the climate is not ideal for the species, but which may become ideal in the near future as the climate changes. This assumes an underlying helplessness on the part of plants like trees to take care of themselves and survive attacks by disease organisms.
How much do we really know about how plants have protected themselves over the eons however, from other invasive species? If they have been around for billions of years longer than animal life, doesn’t this suggest in some sense that they have a level of superiority to that of animals in a way that our biased view of nature blinds us to? If it were determined that plant life orchestrated the rise of primitive animal life through bio-chemical manipulation of its environment, would this raise our estimation of underlying plant intelligence?
Its now known that over 95% of species of all kinds that have ever lived on Earth are extinct, and this percentage continues to rise as new, extinct species are discovered. When large-scale calamity strikes in an ecosystem, animals have a particularly difficult time surviving. Unlike plants, if an entire generation of an animal species dies out, that’s pretty much it for the organism, forever. They cannot produce seed that is capable of lying dormant for sometimes hundreds of years, until conditions improve for it to germinate.
Yet few of us would change places with a tree if we were given the chance. We look at a tree and see not much more than a source of wood for paper, furniture or toothpicks. We acknowledge that it’s a living thing, often a thing of beauty that provides oxygen for animals to breathe and shade from the sun, but beyond that we see no need to respect it as a living thing. It cannot feel pain, and it doesn’t think.
Even though some single examples of trees can survive harsh conditions for thousands of years like the Joshua tree, they don’t seem to be particularly important living things from an animal’s point of view. Without trees and the other plant life that has endured on the Earth through multiple ice ages and mass extinction events however, oxygen breathing animal life would not even be possible.
We owe our existence to plants that range from ocean phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain on up, organisms we consider “primitive,” yet often with longer lifespans than ours, and which live unobtrusively among us. We chalk this all up to them being nothing more than dumb photosynthesizers, here for our benefit, and free to do with as we choose. After all, they are so separate from us, so different, that we would find ludicrous entertaining the idea that some species of plants could be cooperative, sentient creatures. Creatures that created animal life for their own benefit, and peacefully coexist with it to this day…