Pigment dynamics and autumn leaf senescence in a New England deciduous forest, eastern USA


*Email: leed@fiu.edu


The leaves of woody plants at Harvard Forest in Central Massachusetts, USA, changed color during senescence; 70% (62/89) of the woody species examined anatomically contained anthocyanins during senescence. Anthocyanins were not present in summer green leaves, and appeared primarily in the vacuoles of palisade parenchyma cells. Yellow coloration was a result of the unmasking of xanthophyll pigments in senescing chloroplasts. In nine red-senescing species, anthocyanins were not detectable in mature leaves, and were synthesized de novo in senescence, with less than 20 µg cm−2 of chlorophyll remaining. Xanthophyll concentrations declined in relation to chlorophyll to the same extent in both yellow- and red-leaved taxa. Declines in the maximum photosystem II quantum yield of leaves collected prior to dawn were only slightly less in the red-senescing species, indicating no long-term protective activity. Red-leaved species had significantly greater mass/area and lower chlorophyll a/b ratios during senescence. Nitrogen tissue concentrations in mature and senescent leaves negatively correlated to anthocyanin concentrations in senescent leaves, weak evidence for more efficient nitrogen resorption in anthocyanic species. Shading retarded both chlorophyll loss and anthocyanin production in Cornus alternifolia, Acer rubrum, Acer saccharum, Quercus rubra and Viburnum alnifolium. It promoted chlorophyll loss in yellow-senescing Fagus grandifolia. A reduced red : far-red ratio did not affect this process. Anthocyanins did not increase leaf temperatures in Q. rubra and Vaccinium corymbosum on cold and sunny days. The timing of leaf-fall was remarkably constant from year to year, and the order of senescence of individual species was consistent.