Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Tourists, soothsayers & scientists try to predict peak Fall foliage color


But new study sheds light on what makes leaves turn red

Groundhog behavior is supposedly a harbinger of spring.

Wooly Bear Caterpillars are a possible portent of the severity of winter.

But who knows when the Vermont forests will blaze with autumnal gold, orange and scarlet?

Not the weather forecasters, not the almanacs, not some octogenarian recluse Vermonter. Leave that to the scientists.

Here in Vermont where one out of four of the forests’ trees are maples, predicting peak leaf color is important business. Maples are those trees whose brilliant yellow, orange and red foliage most responsible for making the landscape look like a giant spilled his whole bowl of Trix cereal across the Green Mountains in October.

Tourists spent more than $710 million dollars in Vermont last fall, making 1.5 million trips to the state, according to information gathered by the University of Vermont’s Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, published last month.

So Vermont monitors the changes in its forests as carefully as a tourist on Vermont’s Route 100 studies a road map.

Now scientists at the University of Vermont and US Forest Service who track forest color feel they may have unraveled one of the mysteries concerning leaf color.

While color development is affected by a number of factors, "one common thread may be stress," according to Abby van den Berg research technician at UVM’s Proctor Maple Research Center, who’s spent the last four years studying foliage in Vermont forests. She and a team of University of Vermont and US Forest Service scientists used the data from her master’s thesis research to evaluate potential environmental and chemical triggers of fall color development.

"This data has been a source for deeper understanding and a new hypothesis about the connection between stress and red pigmentation in autumn leaves." says Paul Schaberg, UVM adjunct faculty, US Forest Service scientist and the study’s lead author. He says that their study, soon to be published in the journal Tree Physiology, concludes that "nutrient stress, particularly low nitrogen, can instigate early and more intense red color in maples." Others contributing to the research are: Program Chair of Forest Ecology John Shane, Professor Emeritus John Donnelly and UVM alumni Paula Murakami who is also with the US Forest Service.

"We’re developing new clues about what affects the timing and quality of fall coloration. Very little of this kind of work has ever been done before," van den Berg says.

Researchers tested the chemical composition of thousands of leaves from 16 maple trees, providing important information about various indicators of red fall-color development. They used state-of-the-art computer imaging technology to measure the percentage of color in each leaf throughout the seasonal cycle.

In addition to nitrogen, many other factors – potential climate, drought, pollution and others – could affect color, but it will take years of further study to uncover the many mysteries of autumnal color displays.

Scientists do know that cold temperatures and less daylight trigger the breakdown of green chlorophyll from leaves to reveal the yellow that exist hidden beneath all summer. "Then the leaves can also produce red. But why would a tree make red in a leaf that’s about to die?" asks Schaberg. "That’s one of the fundamental questions that we seek to answer."

An abstract of the soon-to-be published study suggests that a primary function of red pigments is to protect trees from photoxidative damage and thereby enhance nutrient recovery during leaf senescence. That means "the trees probably turn red because it’s a helpful coping response to stress," says Schaberg. "One theory is that red is like a sunscreen that allows the leaf to linger long enough for the tree to absorb more nutrients."

But even scientist Schaberg isn’t a soothsayer. In early September he predicted that due to the stress of last summer’s shortage of rainfall, New England would enjoy an early autumn. Alas, a warm September doused by excess rain from two tropical storms, led to an early October with forests still decked in green leaves.

"We’ve had a warm, wet autumn so far," says van den Berg "so trees are a bit late in losing their green, but it all could change practically overnight. Vibrant fall color is going to happen, I can guarantee it."

Cheryl Dorschner | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>