New University of Arizona research indicates that leaf vein patterns correlate with functions such as carbon intake and water use knowledge that could help scientists better understand the complex carbon cycle that is at the heart of global climate warming.
"Leaves have very different networks of veins. They have different shapes, different sizes, different thicknesses," said Benjamin Blonder, a doctoral student in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology. "The really interesting question is how a leaf with a certain form produces a certain function."
Blonder developed a mathematical model to predict the functions of leaves based on three properties of the vein network: density, distance between veins and number of loops, or enclosed regions of smaller veins much like capillaries in humans.
Vein density reflects how much energy and resources the leaf has invested in the network, while distance between veins shows how well the veins are supplying resources to the leaf. The number of loops is a measure of the leaf's resilience and plays a role in determining its lifespan. If the veins reconnect often and part of the leaf becomes damaged, resources can be circulated through different pathways.
"It's like in a city where there's a roadblock somewhere," said Blonder. "If the city was designed well, you can still take another road to get to where you want to be."
Blonder won the UA Graduate and Professional Student Showcase President's Award for his work, which was published this week online in the journal Ecology Letters.
The vein network inside of a leaf is like most of the important organ systems in a person, Blonder said.
"It's like the skeleton because it holds the whole leaf up and lets it capture sunlight and not get blown over in a windstorm. It's like the circulatory system because it's distributing water from the roots up to all the cells within the leaf, and it's also bringi
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University of Arizona