Why do leaves change color in the fall?

Raised of $1,880 Goal
Ended on 12/10/14
Campaign Ended
  • $501
  • 27%
  • Finished
    on 12/10/14

About This Project

During the fall, a variety of autumn colors are seen throughout tree canopies. This range of colors can be attributed to a process called leaf senescence. The goal of this project is to explore the factors associated with leaf senescence, specifically nutrient reabsorption and pigment production. This study will provide us a better understanding of plants' nutrient conservation and adaptive strategies during the end of the season.

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What is the context of this research?

Leaf senescence is involved in the final step of leaf development and requires the careful breakdown of plant photosynthetic pigments. During this process of deterioration, the original pigments are degraded, a different set of pigments might be produced to protect the leaf from overexposure. However, the pigment composition of each species may differ depending on certain characteristics. Meanwhile, plants also reabsorb a proportion of nutrient, especially Nitrogen (N), from leaves before they fall. Similarly, this process affects the physiological activities of plants, since the reabsorbed N is primarily from chlorophyll. In addition, nutrient reabsorption directly influences the amount of leaf litter N recycled into the ecosystem, and ultimately the available soil N for competitors.

What is the significance of this project?

Symbiotic N-fixing plants are crucial in northeast region, since they can be the greatest N input. It is well established that they can overcome N limitation and facilitate N restoration. Understanding the N strategy of N-fixing plants is essential for understanding the physiology of these important plants, and the important role of N-fixing plants, especially its leaf litter, in local N cycle. Within these two functional types, pigment composition may differ depending upon each type’s requirements. Pigment composition is important in determining plant physiological strategies that can be extrapolated to its species. By understanding how plants recycle and reabsorb their nutrients, we can determine plant responses to varying environmental conditions through their structure and function.

What are the goals of the project?

During the process of leaf senescence, do N fixers and non-fixers differ in their…
Pigment production? Physiological response? Nutrient reabsorption? By understanding these factors, we can determine how different functional types of plants undergo leaf senescence, which ultimately allows us to establish 1) a relationship between pigment composition and physiological activity and 2) an understanding of nutrient reabsorption and recycling strategies.


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We are seeking funding to:
1) cover transportation to our field site on a weekly basis from mid-September to early December ($50 * 10 sampling dates)
2) purchase shotgun ammunition ($30 (4 boxes) * 10 sampling dates)
3) conduct element content analyses ($6 * 18 samples per week * 10 sampling dates)

We would greatly appreciate ANY donation amount!

Donate $25
Email updates and an acknowledgment in all academic presentations of this research.

Donate $50
Everything above, in addition to a postcard of one of our forest photos (of your choice).

Donate $100
Everything above, in addition to a beautiful maple leaf bookmark or keychain.

Donate $500
Everything above, in addition to a gorgeous maple leaf brooch.

Meet the Team

Christa Shen & Eleen Liao
Christa Shen & Eleen Liao

Team Bio

Christa is an avid adventurer constantly embarking upon expeditions into the wilderness. Given her insatiable desire to explore the world's natural wonders, Christa aims to pursue a career involving ecological field research. With a deeply rooted fascination in plants, Christa also aspires to be a first-class botanist. In the words of a fellow adventurer, "The wilderness must be explored!"

Eleen's primary research goals are directed towards understanding the N cycle
in terrestrial ecosystems with a specific focus on the physiological-level and community-level responses of N-fixing plants. Eleen approaches the challenging questions using a combination of theoretical and experimental methods.

Lab Notes

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Project Backers

  • 18Backers
  • 27%Funded
  • $501Total Donations
  • $27.83Average Donation
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