Predicting nature’s trends: What is behind leaf turnover in temperate deciduous forests?

Finally, after five gruesome months spent doing field work in the Louisiana swamps sweating and inhaling mosquitos, I can sense the coming of fall. My coworker from Minnesota is not convinced however with temperatures still reaching above 90°F during the middle of the day. I try to explain that unlike further north where the changing of seasons is marked by an obvious change in temperature and vibrant alteration in the color of the landscape, seasonal change in the south takes a well trained eye to observe. The changes are a bit more obscure: A slight browning of the green swamp canopy, fewer bugs, and a small breeze. How do the trees decide the time is now to start the process of dropping all their precious foliage and why are there differences in preferred timing between various individuals living within the same area. More importantly, why do you care?

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So wait, climate change could be good for trees?

Many politicians lacking knowledge about the effects of climate change like to point to the fact that increased CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere will be good for plants and, by default, conclude that climate change is good for humans. But will climate change actually be good for plants? Well maybe. Like all predictions in this world there is quite a bit of uncertainty in the answer to that question; however, quite a few recent studies indicate that due to a longer growing season this may be true at least for some tree species. Trees are extremely important to humans’ and other species’ ability to exist on this planet. We need oxygen and they giveth. Trees also store a lot of carbon, but predicting how this will change in the future is important as we try to prepare for a changing climate.

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