Shrinking Leaves Linked To Climate Change In Australia
July 9, 2012
Researchers from Australia and China have discovered that recent climate change is causing leaves of some Australian plants to narrow in size
AsianScientist (Jul. 9, 2012) – Researchers from Australia and China have discovered that recent climate change is causing leaves of some Australian plants to narrow in size.
The study, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, highlights that plant species are already responding to changes in climate.
Between 1950 and 2005, there has been a 1.2 degree celcius increase in maximum temperatures in South Australia but little change in rainfall in the Flinders Ranges.
Researchers analyzed leaves from herbarium specimens of Narrow-leaf Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa subsp. angustissima) dating from the 1880s to the present, and their analysis revealed a 2 mm decrease in leaf width (within a total range of 1-9 mm) over 127 years across the region.
“Climate change is often discussed in terms of future impacts, but changes in temperature over recent decades have already been ecologically significant,” said lead author Dr. Greg Guerin of the University of Adelaide.
According to Guerin, climate change is driving adaptive shifts within plant species, and these adaptations include leaf shape. In the case of the Narrow-leaf Hopbush, the team was able to significantly link the changes in leaf width to changes in climate, he said.
The researchers’ results indicate that leaf width is closely linked to maximum temperatures, and plants from warmer latitudes typically have narrower leaves.
Guerin noted that some Australian plant species have greater potential to respond to and cope with increasing temperatures than others, and species that are more adaptive to change may be good candidates for environmental restoration efforts.
“Other species in the region have less potential to adapt. These species may rely more heavily on migration – moving from location to location where the climate is favorable – but this can be problematic in a landscape fragmented by human activity,” Guerin said.
The article can be found at: Guerin GR et al. (2012) Leaf morphology shift linked to climate change.
Source: University of Adelaide.
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