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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49559. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049559. Epub 2012 Nov 12.

Leaf shape responds to temperature but not CO2 in Acer rubrum.

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Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, United States of America.


The degree of leaf dissection and the presence of leaf teeth, along with tooth size and abundance, inversely correlate with mean annual temperature (MAT) across many plant communities. These relationships form the core of several methods for reconstructing MAT from fossils, yet the direct selection of temperature on tooth morphology has not been demonstrated experimentally. It is also not known if atmospheric CO(2) concentration affects leaf shape, limiting confidence in ancient climate reconstructions because CO(2) has varied widely on geologic timescales. Here I report the results of growing Acer rubrum (red maple) in growth cabinets at contrasting temperature and CO(2) conditions. The CO(2) treatment imparted no significant differences in leaf size and shape, while plants grown at cooler temperatures tended to have more teeth and more highly dissected leaves. These results provide direct evidence for the selection of temperature on leaf shape in one species, and support a key link in many leaf-climate methods. More broadly, these results increase confidence for using leaf shape in fossils to reconstruct paleoclimate.

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