SMU paleobotanist Bonnie F. Jacobs has contributed research to a major new study by a team of global researchers that provides scientists with a new tool for understanding both ancient and future climate by looking at the size of plant leaves. The research was published September 1, 2017 as a cover story in Science.
Why is a banana leaf a million times bigger than a common heather leaf? Why are leaves generally much larger in tropical jungles than in temperate forests and deserts? The textbooks say it’s a balance between water availability and overheating.
But it’s not that simple, the researchers found.
The study was led by Associate Professor Ian Wright from Macquarie University, Australia. The study reveals that in much of the world the key factor limiting the size of a plant’s leaves is the temperature at night and the risk of frost damage to leaves.
Jacobs said the implications of the study are significant for enabling scientists to either predict modern leaf size in the distant future, or to understand the climate for a locality as it may have been in the past.