DIVERSITY "LEAVES" OFF WHERE SIMILARITY BEGINS
UPTON, NY - A new study of leaves from 280 diverse plant species from allover North America shows striking similarities in structure and function,despite different evolutionary origins.
Far from just a curiosity, the finding could make it easier to usecomputers to model the Earth's vegetation and the effects of climate. Suchmodels attempt to predict the effects of global climate change on theplants and trees that produce much of the world's oxygen, food and shelter,and absorb much of its airborne carbon dioxide.
The result is published in today's issue of the Proceedings of theNational Academy of Sciences by scientists from the University of Minnesotaand the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, led byMinnesota's Peter Reich.
"This research addresses an important question that has doggedecologists and evolutionary biologists for two centuries: 'Do plant speciesaround the world produce leaves with similar forms in differentclimates?'," said David Ellsworth, BNL tree physiologist. "We have foundthat the lifespan of leaves and their form and function show repeatedpatterns in ecosystems spanning nearly the entire range of climatesworldwide."
"Of course, this doesn't mean that a tropical poinsettia is thesame as an alpine fir tree," Ellsworth continued, "but our results offergreat promise for global-scale modelers who desperately seek measuringtools that they can use when facing the difficult challenge of assessinghow global climate change might affect plant function."
The authors' article describes their research on plants found inclimate regions, or biomes, ranging from tropical and temperate forests toalpine tundra and desert.
Such biomes feature vastly different temperature ranges,precipitation levels, soils and species evolutionary histories. But theplants found in every one of the regions seem to share certainrelationships between different factors like their nutrients and the amountof photosynthesis they performed, and the carbon dioxide they releasethrough a process called respiration.
The relationships we describe will help scientists makequantum-leap simplifications in models and measurements without having tofully measure or understand every one of the thousands of plant species onearth," Ellsworth said.
Materials provided by Brookhaven National Laboratory. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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