How will climate change impact leaf fall?

Biology News

shenandoah valley
View of the Shenandoah Valley from a USGS camera placed on Stony Man Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park to record forest leaf color and condition through time.
forest canopy
USGS scientists are capturing photographs of the trees over research weather stations throughout Shenandoah National Park. This is part of an effort to study how forest phenology may be impacted by climate change.

The fall season is perfect for taking a walk or a drive to see the beautiful leaves changing colors from green to red, orange and yellow. Climate change affects the timing of when leaves emerge, the amount of foliage that grows as well as the timeframe when leaves begin to fall. The study of the timing of such events as related to climate is termed “phenology.” USGS scientists are studying how forest phenology may be impacted by climate change, while also looking at how climate change impacts combine with other disturbances such as tree defoliation by insects and death by disease or fire.

Understanding forest phenology patterns is important because they affect the availability of habitats and the flows of water that are critical to animals and people. This research will help inform decisions to responsibly manage land and water resources in response to any future changes in climate and the associated impacts.

Scientists are focusing research on the forests of the Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge province of Virginia. These forests have been protected from major land-use change for many decades, and the National Park Service has recorded the dates and often the location of disturbances such as fires and insect infestations. These factors make the park an excellent “laboratory” in which to conduct phenology research. Scientists are using satellite imagery to track and observe the forest and study the relation between seasonal forest change and weather.

You Can Help Too

Become involved by recording when plants first leaf out and bloom each year. You can do so through the USA National Phenology Network, which was established by the USGS in collaboration with the National Science Foundation. Citizens across the nation are providing data on plants and animals. More information on the USA-NPN can be found online.

Additional information on this study is available online.

Adapted from materials obtained from the AAAS

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