View Full Version : Red Dwarf Jungles - plant life under M-dwarf stars

Roger E. Moore
2018-Aug-07, 01:04 PM
Started noticing an interesting closet of research devoted to the sort of plants that might grow on planets of M-dwarfs, where habitable planets are likely to be tidally locked as well as exposed to red and infrared light.


The Productivity of Oxygenic Photosynthesis around Cool, M Dwarf Stars

Lehmer, Owen R.; Catling, David C.; Parenteau, Mary N.; Hoehler, Tori M.

In the search for life around cool stars, the presence of atmospheric oxygen is a prominent biosignature, as it may indicate oxygenic photosynthesis (OP) on the planetary surface. On Earth, most oxygenic photosynthesizing organisms (OPOs) use photons between 400 and 750 nm, which have sufficient energy to drive the photosynthetic reaction that generates O2 from H2O and CO2. OPOs around cool stars may evolve similar biological machinery capable of producing oxygen from water. However, in the habitable zones (HZs) of the coolest M dwarf stars, the flux of 400--750 nm photons may be just a few percent that of Earth's. We show that the reduced flux of 400--750 nm photons around M dwarf stars could result in Earth-like planets being growth limited by light, unlike the terrestrial biosphere, which is limited by nutrient availability. We consider stars with photospheric temperatures between 2300 and 4200 K and show that such light-limited worlds could occur at the outer edge of the HZ around TRAPPIST-1-like stars. We find that even if OP can use photons longer than 750 nm, there would still be insufficient energy to sustain the Earth's extant biosphere throughout the HZ of the coolest stars. This is because such stars emit largely in the infrared and near-infrared, which provide sufficient energy to make the planet habitable, but limits the energy available for OP. TRAPPIST-1f and g may fall into this category. Biospheres on such planets, potentially limited by photon availability, may generate small biogenic signals, which could be difficult for future observations to detect.



Photosynthesis on a planet orbiting an M dwarf: enhanced effectiveness during flares

Mullan, D. J.; Bais, H. P.

On planets near M dwarfs, photosynthesis (PS) will occur with an effectiveness which depends on the supply of visible photons with wavelengths between 400 and 700 nm. In this paper, we quantify the effectiveness of PS in two contexts which are relevant for M dwarfs. First, using photons from an M dwarf in its quiescent non-flaring state, we find that PS on an M dwarf planet in the HZ of its parent star is less effective than on Earth by a factor of 10 for a flare star with mid-M spectral type. For a flare star with late-M spectral type, PS effectiveness is smaller than on Earth by a factor of 100 or more. Second, using photons which are incident on the HZ planet during flares, we find that PS effectiveness can increase by factors of 5-20 above the quiescent values. In the case of a flare star with mid-M spectral type, we find that the PS effectiveness during a flare can increase up to as much as 50-60 percent of the values on Earth. However, for a late-M flare star, even during flares, the PS effectiveness remains almost one order of magnitude smaller than on Earth. We suggest that for biological processes on M dwarf planets, the stellar activity cycle may replace the orbital period as the year.



Red-edge position of habitable exoplanets around M-dwarfs

Takizawa, Kenji; Minagawa, Jun; Tamura, Motohide; Kusakabe, Nobuhiko; Narita, Norio

One of the possible signs of life on distant habitable exoplanets is the red-edge, which is a rise in the reflectivity of planets between visible and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths. Previous studies suggested the possibility that the red-edge position for habitable exoplanets around M-dwarfs may be shifted to a longer wavelength than that for Earth. We investigated plausible red-edge position in terms of the light environment during the course of the evolution of phototrophs. We show that phototrophs on M-dwarf habitable exoplanets may use visible light when they first evolve in the ocean and when they first colonize the land. The adaptive evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis may eventually also use NIR radiation, by one of two photochemical reaction centers, with the other center continuing to use visible light. These "two-color" reaction centers can absorb more photons, but they will encounter difficulty in adapting to drastically changing light conditions at the boundary between land and water. NIR photosynthesis can be more productive on land, though its evolution would be preceded by the Earth-type vegetation. Thus, the red-edge position caused by photosynthetic organisms on habitable M-dwarf exoplanets could initially be similar to that on Earth and later move to a longer wavelength.



Remotely Detectable Biosignatures of Anoxygenic Phototrophs

Parenteau, M. N.; Kiang, N. Y.; Blankenship, R. E.; Sanromá, E.; Palle Bago, E.; Hoehler, T. M.; Pierson, B. K.

Many astrobiological/exobiological studies have been directed at searching for evidence of life on planetary bodies within our solar system, but the search for life does not have to be restricted to our stellar neighborhood. The field of exoplanet research has grown rapidly over the last several years. Studies have moved beyond detection to assessing the habitability and biosignatures of these worlds. The biosignatures considered thus far focus on biogenic gases and planetary surface features, such as the light reflected from the surface of plants to generate the "red edge" of vegetation. Much work has focused on detecting biosignatures of higher life forms (vegetation) on exoplanets. However, land plants only appeared on the Earth 450 million years ago, and required a long path of photosynthetic evolution. There is a dearth of studies examining how light might interact with much simpler, more evolutionarily ancient pigmented communities, such as photosynthetic microbes. These anoxygenic phototrophs, which have inhabited Earth for nearly 80% of its history, may dominate exoplanets at a similar stage of evolution as the Archean or Paleoproterozoic Earth. Similar to the remotely detectable "red edge" of chlorophyll a - containing vegetation, we measured the reflectance spectra of pure cultures and environmental samples of purple sulfur, purple non-sulfur, heliobacteria, green sulfur, and green non-sulfur anoxygenic phototrophs. We observed an increase in reflectivity just past the absorption maximum for the bacteriochlorophyll pigments. Since this reflectance feature is shifted into the NIR compared to that of the red edge of vegetation, we're calling this the "NIR edge" of anoxygenic phototrophs. The bacteriochlorophyll pigments are particularly well suited to absorb the far-red and near-infrared radiation emitted by M dwarf stars, the most common type of star in our galaxy. Therefore these phototrophs serve as model organisms for photosynthesis adapted to alternative spectral environments.



The Distribution of Plants on Habitable Planet around M-dwarfs

Cui, Duo

Previous studies show that habitable exoplanets around M dwarfs may have two climate patterns, an eyeball climate pattern and a striped-ball climate pattern, depending on the spin-orbit period ratio. The two climate patterns are included into the DNDC (denitrification-decomposition) model, which is modified to accommodate the climate and stellar light conditions different than those on the Earth, to investigate the growth of plants on the corresponding planets. The pattern of plant distribution correlates well with the climate pattern, which is consistent with the close link between plant growth and climate.



On the Growth and Detectability of Land Plants on Habitable Planets around M Dwarfs

Cui, Duo; Tian, Feng; Wang, Yuwei; Li, Changshen; Yu, Chaoqing; Yu, Le

One signature of life on Earth is the vegetation red edge (VRE) feature of land plants, a dramatic change of reflectivity at wavelength near 0.7 mum. Potentially habitable planets around M dwarfs are tidally locked, which can limit the distribution of land plants. In this study, we used a biogeochemical model to investigate the distribution of land plants on potentially habitable planets around M dwarfs driven by climate data produced in a general circulation model (GCM). When considering the effects of clouds, the observation time needed for VRE detection on nearby p = 1 exoplanets around nearby M dwarfs is on the order of days using a 25 m2 telescope if a large continent faces Earth during observations. For p = 1.5 exoplanets, the detection time could be similar if land plants developed the capability to endure a dark/cold environment for extended periods of time and the continent configuration favors observations. Our analysis suggests that hypothetical exovegetation VRE features are easier to detect than Earth vegetation and that VRE detection is possible for nearby exoplanets even under cloudy conditions.



Habitability of Planets Around Red Dwarf Stars

Heath, Martin J.; Doyle, Laurance R.; Joshi, Manoj M.; Haberle, Robert M.

Recent models indicate that relatively moderate climates could exist on Earth-sized planets in synchronous rotation around red dwarf stars. Investigation of the global water cycle, availability of photosynthetically active radiation in red dwarf sunlight, and the biological implications of stellar flares, which can be frequent for red dwarfs, suggests that higher plant habitability of red dwarf planets may be possible.