Nav: Home

How do trees go to sleep?

May 17, 2016

Most living organisms adapt their behavior to the rhythm of day and night. Plants are no exception: flowers open in the morning, some tree leaves close during the night. Researchers have been studying the day and night cycle in plants for a long time: Linnaeus observed that flowers in a dark cellar continued to open and close, and Darwin recorded the overnight movement of plant leaves and stalks and called it "sleep". But even to this day, such studies have only been done with small plants grown in pots, and nobody knew whether trees sleep as well. Now, a team of researchers from Austria, Finland and Hungary measured the sleep movement of fully grown trees using a time series of laser scanning point clouds consisting of millions of points each.

Trees droop their branches at night

"Our results show that the whole tree droops during night which can be seen as position change in leaves and branches", says Eetu Puttonen (Finnish Geospatial Research Institute), "The changes are not too large, only up to 10 cm for trees with a height of about 5 meters, but they were systematic and well within the accuracy of our instruments."

To rule out effects of weather and location, the experiment was done twice with two different trees. The first tree was surveyed in Finland and the other in Austria. Both tests were done close to solar equinox, under calm conditions with no wind or condensation. The leaves and branches were shown to droop gradually, with the lowest position reached a couple of hours before sunrise. In the morning, the trees returned to their original position within a few hours. It is not yet clear whether they were "woken up" by the sun or by their own internal rhythm.

"On molecular level, the scientific field of chronobiology is well developed, and especially the genetic background of the daily periodicity of plants has been studied extensively", explains András Zlinszky (Centre for Ecological Research, Hungarian Academy of Sciences). "Plant movement is always closely connected with the water balance of individual cells, which is affected by the availability of light through photosynthesis. But changes in the shape of the plant are difficult to document even for small herbs as classical photography uses visible light that interferes with the sleep movement." With a laser scanner, plant disturbance is minimal. The scanners use infrared light, which is reflected by the leaves. Individual points on a plant are only illuminated for fractions of a second. With this laser scanning technique, a full-sized tree can be automatically mapped within minutes with sub-centimeter resolution.

"We believe that laser scanning point clouds will allow us to develop a deeper understanding ofplant sleep patterns and to extend our measurement scope from individual plants to larger areas, like orchards or forest plots," says Norbert Pfeifer (TU Wien).

"The next step will be collecting tree point clouds repeatedly and comparing the results to water use measurements during day and night", says Eetu Puttonen. "This will give us a better understanding of the trees' daily tree water use and their influence on the local or regional climate."
-end-
This study was published in an open access article in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science: Puttonen, E., Briese, C., Mandlburger, G., Wieser, M., Pfennigbauer, M., Zlinszky, A., Pfeifer N. (2016). "Quantification of Overnight Movement of Birch (Betula pendula) Branches and Foliage with Short Interval Terrestrial Laser Scanning". Frontiers in Plant Science, 7:222. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2016.00222

Further information:

Norbert Pfeifer
Department für Geodäsie und Geoinformation
TU Wien, Österreich
T: 43-1-58801-12219
norbert.pfeifer@tuwien.ac.at

Eetu Puttonen,
Finnish Geospatial Research Institute (FGI)
National Land Survey of Finland, Finnland
eetu.puttonen@nls.fi

András Zlinszky
Centre for Ecological Research,
Ungarische Akademieder Wissenschaften
zlinszky.andras@okologia.mta.hu

Vienna University of Technology

Related Sleep Articles:

Baby sleeping in same room associated with less sleep, unsafe sleep habits
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents keep babies in the same room with them to sleep for the first year to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Alternating skimpy sleep with sleep marathons hurts attention, creativity in young adults
Skimping on sleep, followed by 'catch-up' days with long snoozes, is tied to worse cognition -- both in attention and creativity -- in young adults, in particular those tackling major projects, Baylor University researchers have found.
Sleep trackers can prompt sleep problems
A researcher and clinician in the sleep disorders program in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center and an associate professor at Rush University, Baron says use of these devices follows a pattern reflected in the title of the Sleep Medicine study: 'Orthosomnia: Are Some Patients Taking the Quantified Self Too Far?'
UW sleep research high-resolution images show how the brain resets during sleep
Striking electron microscope pictures from inside the brains of mice suggest what happens in our own brain every day: Our synapses -- the junctions between nerve cells -- grow strong and large during the stimulation of daytime, then shrink by nearly 20 percent while we sleep, creating room for more growth and learning the next day.
What is good quality sleep? National Sleep Foundation provides guidance
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recently released the key indicators of good sleep quality, as established by a panel of experts.
Homeless sleep less, more likely to have insomnia; sleep improvements needed
The homeless sleep less and are more likely to have insomnia and daytime fatigue than people in the general population, findings researchers believe suggest more attention needs to be paid to improving sleep for this vulnerable population, according to a research letter published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.
Losing sleep over discrimination? 'Everyday discrimination' may contribute to sleep problems
People who perceive more discrimination in daily life have higher rates of sleep problems, based on both subjective and objective measures, reports a study in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, the official journal of the American Psychosomatic Society.
Mouse mutants with sleep defects may shed light on the mysteries of sleep
The first unbiased genetic screen for sleep defects in mice has yielded two interesting mutants, Sleepy, which sleeps excessively, and Dreamless, which lacks rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Brain circuit that drives sleep-wake states, sleep-preparation behavior is identified
Stanford University School of Medicine scientists have identified a brain circuit that's indispensable to the sleep-wake cycle.
Recharge with sleep: Pediatric sleep recommendations promoting optimal health
For the first time, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has released official consensus recommendations for the amount of sleep needed to promote optimal health in children and teenagers to avoid the health risks of insufficient sleep.

Related Sleep Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...