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One barometer of the weather is a plant’s seasonal cycles, such as the date when its leaves sprout in spring or drop off in fall. What these cyclic events, called plant phenology, might reveal about climate change is the focus of a long-term Brown-MBL study in a Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., forest.

An automated camera on a tower can record seasonal changes in overall leaf color, but photos might not always correspond to seasonal biochemical changes within leaves themselves. Credit: Marc Mayes/Brown University

An automated camera on a tower records seasonal changes in leaf color in a Martha’s Vineyard forest. Credit: Marc Mayes/Brown University

“Our overall goal is to understand the phenology of trees in a temperate, deciduous forest, and how it responds to climate change,” says MBL Ecosystems Center scientist Jianwu (Jim) Tang.

Tang and his collaborators have placed digital cameras on meteorological towers in the Vineyard’s Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, at the Nature Conservancy Hoft Farm Preserve, and in a private forest, and have been continuously capturing images of the trees and leaves since 2000.

They discovered recently that forest “greenness,” as captured by the digital images, does not necessarily correspond to direct measures of peak chlorophyll content in the leaves, which is an indicator of photosynthesis. (Photosynthesis levels, in turn, indicate rates of carbon absorption by the leaves, which is important information for modeling the impacts of climate change.) Their results are published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences.

“While color of leaves is important information, we found it is not sufficient to derive the real phenology change,” says Tang. They needed to supplement the imaging data by collecting leaves on a weekly basis and measuring chlorophyll levels in the lab. “This is a warning for future study,” says Xi Yang, a graduate student in the Brown-MBL Partnership and Graduate Program and lead author on the new paper. Yi’s advisors are Tang and John F. Mustard, professor of geological sciences at Brown University.

For more information, please see this press release issued by Brown University.

Citation:

Yang X, Tang J, Mustard J (2014) Beyond leaf color: comparing camera-based phenological metrics with leaf biochemical, biophysical and spectral properties throughout the growing season of a temperate deciduous forest. J. Geophys. Res. DOI: 10.1002/2013JG002460

 

 

The MBL hosted the annual Brown-MBL Partnership retreat, November 8-9 in Woods Hole. Thirty-six Brown undergraduate students visited MBL laboratories, the Marine Resources Center, the Semester in Environmental Science, and the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to investigate research and internship opportunities at MBL.

The retreat featured a symposium, “Imaging Across Biology,” and a display organized by MBL Senior Scientist Rudolf Oldenbourg with contributions from Shinya Inoué (MBL), Louie Kerr (MBL), Mai Tran (MBL), and Jim McIlvain (Zeiss Inc.) and others that traced the history of microscopy at the MBL.

Rudolf Oldenbourg explains the principles of polarized light to Brown students visiting for the Brown-MBL Partnership retreat.

 

Be prepared to be inspired! iBiology has just released “Why I Do Science, Part II,” a collection of short interviews with MBL course students. Common themes are friendship, fun, and the creative challenges of scientific problem-solving. The students, who were at MBL in the summer of 2012, are from universities and institutes around the globe. iBiology (formerly iBioSeminars) is directed by MBL visiting scientist Ron Vale of University of California, San Francisco.

 

 

The first annual Northeast Climate Science Center (NE CSC) Fellows Retreat is being held this week at MBL’s Marshview Field Station near Plum Island, off the North Shore coast of Massachusetts.  Sixteen graduate and postdoctoral fellows from eight states are learning about climate challenges to coastal and salt marsh habitats and meeting with federal and state managers, including stakeholders from the nearby Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, the State of Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management office, and Division of Ecological Restoration.

NE CSC Consortium leaders, including Jimmy Nelson and Christopher Neill from the MBL Ecosystems Center,  are facilitating interactive exercises in which Fellows practice science communication and engaging stakeholders in the research design process. The MBL is a founding member of the NE CSC consortium.

Jimmy Nelson of the Ecosystems Center explains results from a Plum Island, Mass., marsh nutrient enrichment experiment to Northeast Climate Science Center fellows at a retreat at MBL's Marshview Farm field station. Credit: Chris Neill

Jimmy Nelson of the Ecosystems Center explains results from a Plum Island, Mass., marsh nutrient enrichment experiment to Northeast Climate Science Center fellows at a retreat at MBL’s Marshview Farm field station. Credit: Chris Neill

The NE CSC, established in 2012, is part of a network of eight regional CSCs created to provide scientific information, tools, and techniques that managers and other parties interested in land, water, wildlife and cultural resources can use to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to climate change.  It is hosted by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and also works with a consortium of institutions: the College of Menominee Nation, Columbia University, Marine Biological Laboratory, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, Columbia, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In addition to the host and consortium institutions, the NE CSC will also collaborate with other important partner institutions.

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