Tropical forest leaves may darken in response to climate change

Christopher E. Doughty, Paul Efren Santos-Andrade, Alexander Shenkin, Gregory R. Goldsmith, Lisa P. Bentley, Benjamin Blonder, Sandra Díaz, Norma Salinas, Brian J. Enquist, Roberta E. Martin, Gregory P. Asner, Yadvinder Malhi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Tropical forest leaf albedo (reflectance) greatly impacts how much energy the planet absorbs; however; little is known about how it might be impacted by climate change. Here, we measure leaf traits and leaf albedo at ten 1-ha plots along a 3,200-m elevation gradient in Peru. Leaf mass per area (LMA) decreased with warmer temperatures along the elevation gradient; the distribution of LMA was positively skewed at all sites indicating a shift in LMA towards a warmer climate and future reduced tropical LMA. Reduced LMA was significantly (P < 0.0001) correlated with reduced leaf near-infrared (NIR) albedo; community-weighted mean NIR albedo significantly (P < 0.01) decreased as temperature increased. A potential future 2 °C increase in tropical temperatures could reduce lowland tropical leaf LMA by 6–7 g m 2 (5–6%) and reduce leaf NIR albedo by 0.0015–0.002 units. Reduced NIR albedo means that leaves are darker and absorb more of the Sun’s energy. Climate simulations indicate this increased absorbed energy will warm tropical forests more at high CO 2 conditions with proportionately more energy going towards heating and less towards evapotranspiration and cloud formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1918-1924
Number of pages7
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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