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What makes leaves fall in autumn? A new process description for the timing of leaf senescence in temperate and boreal trees

Total Cost €


EC-Contrib. €






Project "LEAF-FALL" data sheet

The following table provides information about the project.


Organization address
address: PRINSSTRAAT 13
postcode: 2000

contact info
title: n.a.
name: n.a.
surname: n.a.
function: n.a.
email: n.a.
telephone: n.a.
fax: n.a.

 Coordinator Country Belgium [BE]
 Total cost 1˙499˙250 €
 EC max contribution 1˙499˙250 € (100%)
 Programme 1. H2020-EU.1.1. (EXCELLENT SCIENCE - European Research Council (ERC))
 Code Call ERC-2016-STG
 Funding Scheme ERC-STG
 Starting year 2017
 Duration (year-month-day) from 2017-02-01   to  2023-01-31


Take a look of project's partnership.

# participants  country  role  EC contrib. [€] 
1    UNIVERSITEIT ANTWERPEN BE (ANTWERPEN) coordinator 1˙499˙250.00


 Project objective

Leaf phenology is a key component in the functioning of temperate and boreal deciduous forests. The environmental cues for bud-burst in spring are well known, but little is known about the cues controlling the timing of leaf fall in autumn. Leaf fall is the last stage of leaf senescence, a process which allows trees to recover leaf nutrients. We urgently need to understand the controls timing leaf senescence to improve our projections of forest growth and climate change. I propose a new general paradigm of the onset of leaf senescence, hypothesizing that leaf senescence is triggered by the cessation of tree growth in autumn. I expect that: (i) in the absence of growth-limiting environmental conditions, tree growth cessation directly controls leaf-senescence onset; and (ii) in the presence of growth-limiting conditions, photoperiod controls leaf-senescence onset – this prevents trees from starting to senesce too early. I will test these hypotheses with a combination of: (i) manipulative experiments on young trees - these will disentangle the impact of photoperiod from that of other factors affecting tree growth cessation, namely: temperature, drought and soil nutrient availability; (ii) monitoring leaf senescence and growth in mature forest stands; (iii) comparing the leaf senescence dynamics of four major tree species (Fagus sylvatica, Quercus robur, Betula pendula and Populus tremula) in four European locations spanning from 40º to 70º N; and (iv) integrating the new paradigm into a model of forest ecosystem dynamics and testing it for the major forested areas of Europe. The aim is to solve the conundrum of the timing of leaf senescence in temperate and boreal deciduous trees, provide a new interpretation of the relationship between leaf senescence, tree growth and environment, and deliver a modelling tool able to predict leaf senescence and tree growth, for projections of forest biomass production and climate change.


year authors and title journal last update
List of publications.
2019 Mieke Decoster
Autumn phenology of different organs of deciduous tree species in a semi-boreal region
published pages: , ISSN: , DOI:
2018 Mariën B
Analysis of seasonal variability of leaf traits to detect onset of autumn leaf senescence in deciduous forest trees of the temperate zone
published pages: , ISSN: , DOI:
2018 Marchand L
Inter-individual variability in spring phenology of leaves and wood of temperate deciduous trees
published pages: , ISSN: , DOI:

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