PerspectiveEcology

Surplus and stress control autumn timing

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Science  27 Nov 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6520, pp. 1030-1031
DOI: 10.1126/science.abf4481

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Summary

The presence of leaves on deciduous trees not only marks the changing of the seasons, but also defines the period of time in which trees store carbon from the air in leaves, wood, and roots. Warming winters causing earlier spring-leaf emergence is a widespread pattern of climate-change impacts across temperate tree species and their locations (1). Much more idiosyncratic is the timing of leaf senescence (deterioration), which offers no clear indication of whether future warming will cause an extended autumn growing season that leads to greater carbon-storage potential (2). On page 1066 of this issue, Zani et al. (3) demonstrate that there might be limits to how much carbon a tree can use or store in a single year. Further, if all carbon needs are met, leaves might senesce earlier rather than later in the autumn.

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