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Trees Grow Leaves More Efficiently After Hurricane
New Study by Clemson University Researchers

Trees Grow Leaves More Efficiently After Hurricane

Clemson University doctoral student Tristan Allerton as he measures leaf-gas exchange of new leaves produced following Hurricane Maria.
Photo Credit: Tristan Allerton, Clemson University

Trees Grow Leaves More Efficiently After Hurricane

Allerton conducting field examinations on newly grown leaves in Costa Rica.
Photo Credit: Skip Van Bloem, Clemson University

After a yearlong study in Puerto Rico, Clemson University doctoral student, Tristan Allerton, and a team of researchers, concluded that after Hurricane Maria, several species of trees were able to take in the same amount of light while spending less energy on leaf production, essentially becoming more efficient.

Allerton and his research group studied 13 types of trees, one month, eight months and 12 months after Hurricane Maria hit, then compared the newly collected leaves to the ones gathered before the hurricane. What they found was that 11 of the 13 trees were absorbing carbon dioxide at a much higher rate right after the storm.

"A key finding was that the leaves of some of the species contained less chlorophyll than prior to the hurricane," stated professor Skip Van Bloem, director of the Baruch Institute and Allerton's supervisor, in a Clemson news post ( "Even though new leaves were better suited structurally to capture valuable resources, lower leaf quality could reduce leaf lifespan and the trees' ability to produce energy."

One of the questions still unanswered is if dormant evergreen species would be able to recreate this same type of efficiency observed in the deciduous trees.

Allerton stated in the aforementioned news article, "Many of our evergreens displayed little change in gas exchange rates and in general the relative decline in new leaf chlorophyll after Maria was much greater than for deciduous species. Under normal conditions, evergreens renew their canopies over monthly and yearly timescales, therefore it's likely hurricane canopy damage is a more expensive process for these trees."

The findings from the study were presented at a conference on December 18, to a reported audience of 1,200 ecologists.

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October 17, 2019, 4:38 pm PDT

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