Research

Image or reality? Leaf study needs photos and lab analysis

What color is your canopy?

An automated camera on a tower above the forest canopy can record seasonal changes in overall leaf color, but photos might not always correspond to seasonal biochemical changes within leaves themselves. Credit: Marc Mayes/Brown University

Every picture tells a story, but the story digital photos tell about how forests respond to climate change could be incomplete, according to new research. Scientists from Brown University and the Marine Biological Laboratory have shown that the peak in forest greenness as captured by digital pictures does not necessarily correspond to direct measures of peak chlorophyll content in leaves, which is an indicator of photosynthesis. The study, which focused on a forest on Martha’s Vineyard, has significant implications for how scientists use digital photos to study forest canopies.