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Zani, Deborah; Crowther, Thomas W.; Mo, Lidong; Renner, Susanne S.; Zohner, Constantin M. (2020): Increased growing-season productivity drives earlier autumn leaf senescence in temperate trees. In: Science, Vol. 370, No. 6520: pp. 1066-1071
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Changes in the growing-season lengths of temperate trees greatly affect biotic interactions and global carbon balance. Yet future growing-season trajectories remain highly uncertain because the environmental drivers of autumn leaf senescence are poorly understood. Using experiments and long-term observations, we show that increases in spring and summer productivity due to elevated carbon dioxide, temperature, or light levels drive earlier senescence. Accounting for this effect improved the accuracy of senescence predictions by 27 to 42% and reversed future predictions from a previously expected 2- to 3-week delay over the rest of the century to an advance of 3 to 6 days. These findings demonstrate the critical role of sink limitation in governing the end of seasonal activity and reveal important constraints on future growing-season lengths and carbon uptake of trees.