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Study of leaf pores may help scientists predict climate

Study of leaf pores may help scientists predict climate

A major global research project to help build better climate models is using data collected from plants at 56 sites around the world including kauri trees at Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges.

Data for the project was crowd-sourced from scientists in 15 countries. Samples were taken from the leaf pores - or stomata - of 314 plant species in different regions of the globe, from wild Arctic tundra to tropical rain forests.

Leaf pores of plants are highly responsive to environmental conditions such as humidity and soil moisture. Plants use stomata to control water loss and the intake of carbon during photosynthesis.

Because plants trade water for carbon, the data is important to understanding the carbon and water exchange between plants and the atmosphere. These water and carbon cycles are fundamental to a better understanding of how the Earth’s climate might be changing.

School of Biological Sciences lecturer Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng, who took part in the study, says it was good to see New Zealand data being included in the project.

“We contributed data from kauri trees growing in the Waitakere Ranges and it’s fantastic to see New Zealand being included is such a big global project,” she says.

“We sometimes get left out because of our small size. But so many of New Zealand’s plants are found nowhere else so it’s important our ecosystems are represented in climate models.”

Overall the study found that plants use water wisely, indicating that plants have adapted their water-use strategies to their environments.

Scientists are building Earth System Models to both analyse how the Earth’s climate has behaved in the past and how it might change in the future. The project, involving hundreds of scientists and science institutions around the world, uses advanced computer analysis of the data to try and identify any “tipping points”, for example future sea level rise projections.

Dr Macinnis-Ng says the latest round of data-gathering of leaf pore data will improve the outputs and confidence of scientists in the Earth System Models.

“That the behaviour of something so microscopic as a pore in the leaf of a plant can be so important in terms of global patterns of carbon uptake and water loss to the atmosphere is pretty amazing.”


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