Contributions of day length, temperature and individual variability on the rate and timing of leaf senescence in the common lilac Syringa vulgaris

Sami Aikio, Kari Taulavuori, Sonja Hurskainen, Erja Taulavuori, Juha Tuomi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Deciduous trees prepare for winter by breaking up chlorophyll and other nitrogen-rich compounds, which are resorbed for storage. Timing is important as senescence too early will waste growing season, while senescence too late risks the loss of the leaf resources to frost. While plants of temperate and boreal regions use decreasing day length as a cue of approaching winter, we show that decreasing temperature may also play a role in the variability of leaf senescence. We investigated the timing of autumnal decrease in photosynthetic efficiency and the concentration of chlorophyll and total carotenoids in nine common lilac (Syringa vulgaris L.) trees over two consecutive years. Day length explained a greater proportion of photosynthetic efficiency, but temperature had a significant additional role, which seems to be related to individual differences. Precipitation and cloudiness did not explain photosynthetic efficiency. Photosynthetic efficiency was higher outside the canopy and at high and middle elevations than inside and low elevations of the canopy. Late onset of senescence led to a steeper decline in photosynthetic efficiency than early senescence. The onset of decline in photosynthetic efficiency differed between years, but there was no difference in the steepest rate of change in photosynthetic efficiency with respect to sampling year or location. Contributions of day-length vs temperature to leaf senescence have important consequences for the adaptability and invasibility of deciduous trees in a changing climate, especially at the edge of species distributions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)961–970
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
  • autumn colours
  • carotenoid
  • chlorophyll
  • individual differences
  • photosynthesis
  • winter preparation
  • within-canopy variation

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