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Botany: Leafing out and climate change
Date:6/20/2014

Global warming is generally expected to bring spring forward but, as a new study at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich shows, a concomitant influx of plant species from warmer southern latitudes could counteract this effect.

Climate change is already clearly discernible in our part of the world. Data from local weather stations indicate that the average temperature in the Munich region has risen by 1.5C over the past century. LMU biologist Professor Susanne Renner and her research group have now looked at the effects of this warming trend on the timing of leaf emergence ("leaf-out") in a broad range of shrubs and trees.

The inducers of leaf-out

"It is widely believed that warmer temperatures will extend the growing season and that leaf-out in our flora will occur at progressively earlier times in the year. However, whether air temperature or day-length is the dominant factor determining the date of leaf-out is actually known for very few of the thousands of species of trees and shrubs," says Renner. As Director of Munich's Botanic Garden, she was in a position to remedy this situation.

Some 16,000 plant species from diverse climate zones are cultivated in the Garden, and Renner and her doctoral student Constantin Zohner have taken advantage of this unique resource to monitor the timing of leaf-out in nearly 500 different species of woody plants. "Such a comprehensive phenological study has never been undertaken before," says Renner. Temperature and day-length are the primary triggers of leaf development, and selective forces during the course of evolution have determined which signal is actually used in a given species. The results of the new study show that, in many woody plants that thrive in warmer southern climes, day-length acts as a safety barrier so that these trees don't risk having their leaves damaged by late frosts and increased temperature does not override this barrier.

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Contact: Luise Dirscherl
presse@lmu.de
0049-892-180-3423
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitt Mnchen
Source:Eurekalert

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