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Catching a red herring: autumn colours and aphids


  • T. C. R. White

T. C. R White (, School of Agriculture Food and Wine, Waite Agricultural Research Inst., The Univ. of Adelaide, PB No.1, Glen Osmond, South Australia 5064, Australia.


The purpose of this note is not to support any particular hypothesis explaining the evolution of red coloured autumn leaves, but to present evidence that shows existing knowledge does not support one such hypothesis – that red coloured leaves evolved as a signal to protect trees from aphids feeding and laying eggs on them in autumn. An alternative hypothesis is that autumn-feeding aphids are senescence-feeders, evolved to feed only on senescing leaves. These aphids are programmed to detect and feed on such leaves when they are still green and yellow and actively exporting their nutrients. Aphids reject or ignore red leaves because they are no longer good food, not because they are protecting the trees from the aphids.