Trees have biological clocks

By AAP with AG staff 28 March 2012
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Trees have the same kind of biological clock that causes humans to suffer from jetlag, new research shows.

TREES HAVE BIOLOGICAL CLOCKS and can be affected by jetlag in much the same way as humans, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) say jetlag could operate at an ecosystem level in plants and hold clues to how trees store carbon.

The internal biological clock that’s disrupted when humans travel across time zones – causing jetlag – could also be the mechanism that regulates plant photosynthesis, says Dr Victor Resco de Dios, the lead author of the study published in the journal, Global Change Biology.

“Plant equivalent of jetlag”

“If you could move a whole forest from Sydney to Barcelona all of the trees – in fact the whole ecosystem – would likely have the plant equivalent of jetlag,” Dr Resco de Dios, from UWS’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment.

While conceding few forests are moved across international time zones, he said the research could be useful in an era of tackling climate change.

Using observational data collected from forests around the world, Resco’s team tested whether a change in environmental conditions affected the amount of carbon locked away by plants.

“The research results provide a much better understanding of ecosystem function and its capacity to store carbon which is essential in an era of climate change and carbon accounting,” he said.

The research is hoped to provide a greater understanding of the biological clocks of trees and whether this knowledge could improve the accuracy of carbon exchange models in the future.