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Plant Cell Environ. 2017 Feb;40(2):237-248. doi: 10.1111/pce.12857. Epub 2016 Dec 27.

The influence of leaf size and shape on leaf thermal dynamics: does theory hold up under natural conditions?

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School of Life Sciences, University of Technology Sydney, Broadway, NSW, 2007, Australia.
Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, 87545, USA.
Department of Quantum Science, Research School of Physics and Engineering, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.
Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.


Laboratory studies on artificial leaves suggest that leaf thermal dynamics are strongly influenced by the two-dimensional size and shape of leaves and associated boundary layer thickness. Hot environments are therefore said to favour selection for small, narrow or dissected leaves. Empirical evidence from real leaves under field conditions is scant and traditionally based on point measurements that do not capture spatial variation in heat load. We used thermal imagery under field conditions to measure the leaf thermal time constant (τ) in summer and the leaf-to-air temperature difference (∆T) and temperature range across laminae (Trange ) during winter, autumn and summer for 68 Proteaceae species. We investigated the influence of leaf area and margin complexity relative to effective leaf width (we ), the latter being a more direct indicator of boundary layer thickness. Normalized difference of margin complexity had no or weak effects on thermal dynamics, but we strongly predicted τ and ∆T, whereas leaf area influenced Trange . Unlike artificial leaves, however, spatial temperature distribution in large leaves appeared to be governed largely by structural variation. Therefore, we agree that small size, specifically we , has adaptive value in hot environments but not with the idea that thermal regulation is the primary evolutionary driver of leaf dissection.


boundary layer; cooling time constant; effective leaf width; infrared imagery; leaf dissection; leaf shape; leaf size; leaf temperature; thermal dynamics

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