Acclimation of leaf respiration consistent with optimal photosynthetic capacity

Han Wang, Owen K. Atkin, Trevor F. Keenan, Nicholas G. Smith, Ian J. Wright, Keith J. Bloomfield, Jens Kattge, Peter B. Reich, I. Colin Prentice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Plant respiration is an important contributor to the proposed positive global carbon-cycle feedback to climate change. However, as a major component, leaf mitochondrial (‘dark’) respiration (Rd) differs among species adapted to contrasting environments and is known to acclimate to sustained changes in temperature. No accepted theory explains these phenomena or predicts its magnitude. Here we propose that the acclimation of Rd follows an optimal behaviour related to the need to maintain long-term average photosynthetic capacity (Vcmax) so that available environmental resources can be most efficiently used for photosynthesis. To test this hypothesis, we extend photosynthetic co-ordination theory to predict the acclimation of Rd to growth temperature via a link to Vcmax, and compare predictions to a global set of measurements from 112 sites spanning all terrestrial biomes. This extended co-ordination theory predicts that field-measured Rd and Vcmax accessed at growth temperature (Rd,tg and Vcmax,tg) should increase by 3.7% and 5.5% per degree increase in growth temperature. These acclimated responses to growth temperature are less steep than the corresponding instantaneous responses, which increase 8.1% and 9.9% per degree of measurement temperature for Rd and Vcmax respectively. Data-fitted responses proof indistinguishable from the values predicted by our theory, and smaller than the instantaneous responses. Theory and data are also shown to agree that the basal rates of both Rd and Vcmax assessed at 25°C (Rd,25 and Vcmax,25) decline by ~4.4% per degree increase in growth temperature. These results provide a parsimonious general theory for Rd acclimation to temperature that is simpler—and potentially more reliable—than the plant functional type-based leaf respiration schemes currently employed in most ecosystem and land-surface models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2573-2583
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number4
Early online dateFeb 24 2020
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by National Key R&D Program of China (no. 2018YFA0605400), National Natural Science Foundation of China (no. 31971495) and Tsinghua University Initiative Scientific Research Program (no. 2019Z07L01001) and the High End Foreign Expert awards at Tsinghua University to I.C.P. (GDW20181100161). It has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 787203 REALM to I.C.P.). It is a contribution to the AXA Chair Programme in Biosphere and Climate Impacts and the Imperial College initiative on Grand Challenges in Ecosystems and the Environment. O.K.A. acknowledges the support of the Australian Research Council (DP130101252 and CE140100008). T.F.K. acknowledges financial support from the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) fund under the auspices of DOE, BER Office of Science at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. I.J.W. acknowledges the support of the Australian Research Council (DP170103410). N.G.S. acknowledges support from Texas Tech University.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • acclimation
  • carbon cycle
  • carboxylation capacity (V)
  • climate change
  • co-ordination
  • land-surface model
  • leaf mass per area
  • leaf nitrogen
  • nitrogen cycle
  • optimality
  • photosynthesis


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