A New Leaf

Many New England trees will display more autumn colors as the climate warms, scientists predict in PLOS ONE.

Researchers have already found that climate change is making some plants bloom earlier. But it’s not as clear whether warmer weather also will affect tree leaves’ brilliant transformation to red and yellow in fall. Since tourists flock to areas such as New England to watch this autumn spectacle, the answer could have “enormous economic importance” for some regions, the study authors write.

The team studied leaf data collected in Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts from 1993 to 2010. Every fall, a researcher recorded the percentage of fallen leaves and leaves with autumn colors for trees from eight species, including red maple, white ash, black oak, and black cherry. 

The authors used the data to calibrate a computer model of leaf coloring, then ran the model to predict the effects of climate change on leaves through 2099. The results suggest “an overall increase in the amount of autumn colors for most species,” the team writes. The higher the carbon dioxide emissions, the more fall color the model predicted. Roberta Kwok | 13 March 2013

Source: Archetti, M. et al. 2013. Predicting climate change impacts on the amount and duration of autumn colors in a New England forest. PLOS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057373.

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