Terrestrial laser scanning data show that trees move their branches in a diurnal pattern, settling down for the night — as if falling asleep. So far, however, researchers have been uncertain as to why this happens.
A new study utilising time-series of terrestrial laser scanning measurements shows that changes in the water status of leaves and branches causes branches to move downward at night, up to 20 cm depending on the tree species. Leaves and branches replenish their water storage during the night, increasing their weight and causing them to droop down. Terrestrial laser scanning is a remote sensing technique that can produce a 3D representation of the surroundings with millimetre accuracy. With repeated measurements, it is possible to study small structural changes in the environment, such as the movement of branches.
“By monitoring the movement of tree branches, we can gain insight into how water moves inside the tree. Climate change reduces the availability of water and increases drought stress, so it is important to understand the movement of water in trees in order to understand changes in forest health,” Postdoctoral Researcher and the lead author of the article Samuli Junttila from the University of Eastern Finland says.
In the laboratory, the researchers found that tree branch position followed changes in tree water status also over a longer time period. These findings also have practical applications. For example, laser scanning could be used to monitor plant water status in a greenhouse to automate watering regimes and save valuable resources.
The study was conducted at the University of Eastern Finland in collaboration with the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute and the University of Helsinki. The study was conducted within the UNITE Flagship Programme funded by the Academy of Finland.