Building Better Models of Climate Change
Professor Travis E. Huxman, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, was part of a large multi-institutional research study established to determine the extent, magnitude and controls on photosynthesis in tropical forests. Analyzing how tropical forests regulate their seasonal photosynthesis and how trees respond to oscillations in atmospheric carbon dioxide will help scientists generate better models of climate change.
To develop a mechanistic understanding of how photosynthesis might be controlled, Professor Huxman and his colleagues looked at tropical forest leaf development and senescence (the process of deterioration with age) in response to seasonal change.
Current scientific models on tropical forests have largely been generated from satellite data that can often miss more dynamic changes in the forest. Professor Huxman and his colleagues utilized on-ground tower-mounted cameras to gather more focused data and found that photosynthesis infrastructure (e.g., leaf surface area, photosynthetic capacity, leaf viability) is the primary driver of tropical forest seasonal photosynthesis. Their findings are in contrast to other models of tropical forests that suggest climate variability is the primary driver. As a result, scientists can improve their ability to predict long-term consequences of climate change to tropical forests based on the new discovery that information on leaf photosynthesis infrastructure is needed to correctly detect and model the climate sensitivity of tropical forests.