Acclimation of photosynthetic temperature optima of temperate and boreal tree species in response to experimental forest warming

Kerrie M. Sendall, Peter B. Reich, Changming Zhao, Hou Jihua, Xiaorong Wei, Artur Stefanski, Karen Rice, Roy L. Rich, Rebecca A. Montgomery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Rising temperatures caused by climate change could negatively alter plant ecosystems if temperatures exceed optimal temperatures for carbon gain. Such changes may threaten temperature-sensitive species, causing local extinctions and range migrations. This study examined the optimal temperature of net photosynthesis (Topt) of two boreal and four temperate deciduous tree species grown in the field in northern Minnesota, United States under two contrasting temperature regimes. We hypothesized that Topt would be higher in temperate than co-occurring boreal species, with temperate species exhibiting greater plasticity in Topt, resulting in better acclimation to elevated temperatures. The chamberless experiment, located at two sites in both open and understory conditions, continuously warmed plants and soils during three growing seasons. Results show a modest, but significant shift in Topt of 1.1 ± 0.21 °C on average for plants subjected to a mean 2.9 ± 0.01 °C warming during midday hours in summer, and shifts with warming were unrelated to species native ranges. The 1.1 °C shift in Topt with 2.9 °C warming might be interpreted as suggesting limited capacity to shift temperature response functions to better match changes in temperature. However, Topt of warmed plants was as well-matched with prior midday temperatures as Topt of plants in the ambient treatment, and Topt in both treatments was at a level where realized photosynthesis was within 90-95% of maximum. These results suggest that seedlings of all species were close to optimizing photosynthetic temperature responses, and equally so in both temperature treatments. Our study suggests that temperate and boreal species have considerable capacity to match their photosynthetic temperature response functions to prevailing growing season temperatures that occur today and to those that will likely occur in the coming decades under climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1342-1357
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Climate change
  • Ecotone
  • Maximum photosynthetic rate
  • Range shifts
  • Thermal plasticity


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