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Autumn leaves seen through herbivore eyes Thomas F. Doring1,2,*, Marco Archetti3

Summary: Autumn leaves seen through herbivore eyes
Thomas F. Do¨ring1,2,*, Marco Archetti3
and Jim Hardie1
Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK
School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University London, London E1 4NS, UK
Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK
Why leaves of some trees turn red in autumn has puzzled biologists for decades, as just before leaf fall the
pigments causing red coloration are newly synthesized. One idea to explain this apparently untimely
investment is that red colour signals the tree's quality to herbivorous insects, particularly aphids. However,
it is unclear whether red leaves are indeed less attractive to aphids than green leaves. Because aphids lack a
red photoreceptor, it was conjectured that red leaves could even be indiscernable from green ones for these
insects. Here we show, however, that the colour of autumnal tree leaves that appear red to humans are on
average much less attractive to aphids than green leaves, whereas yellow leaves are much more attractive.
We conclude that, while active avoidance of red leaves by aphids is unlikely, red coloration in autumn could
still be a signal of the tree's quality, or alternatively serve to mask the over-attractive yellow that is unveiled
when the green chlorophyll is recovered from senescing leaves. Our study shows that in sensory ecology,
receiver physiology alone is not sufficient to reveal the whole picture. Instead, the combined analysis of


Source: Archetti, Marco - Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University


Collections: Biology and Medicine