Short-and long-term responses of photosynthetic capacity to temperature in four boreal tree species in a free-air warming and rainfall manipulation experiment

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High latitude forests cope with considerable variation in moisture and temperature at multiple temporal scales. To assess how their photosynthetic physiology responds to short-and long-term temperature variation, we measured photosynthetic capacity for four tree species growing in an open-air experiment in the boreal-temperate ecotone 'Boreal Forest Warming at an Ecotone in Danger' (B4WarmED). The experiment factorially manipulated temperature above-and below-ground (ambient, +3.2 °C) and summer rainfall (ambient, 40% removal). We measured A/Ci curves at 18, 25 and 32 °C for individuals of two boreal (Pinus banksiana Lamb., Betula papyrifera Marsh.) and two temperate species (Pinus strobus L., Acer rubrum L.) experiencing the long-term warming and/or reduced-rainfall conditions induced by our experimental treatments. We calculated the apparent photosynthetic capacity descriptors VCmax,Ci and Jmax,Ci and their ratio for each measurement temperate. We hypothesized that (i) VCmax,Ci and Jmax,Ci would be down-regulated in plants experiencing longer term (e.g., weeks to months) warming and reduced rainfall (i.e., have lower values at a given measurement temperature), as is sometimes found in the literature, and that (ii) plants growing at warmer temperatures or from warmer ranges would show greater sensitivity (steeper slope) to short-term (minutes to hours) temperature variation. Neither hypothesis was supported as a general trend across the four species, as there was not a significant main effect (across species) of either warming or rainfall reduction on VCmax,Ci and Jmax,Ci. All species markedly increased VCmax,Ci and Jmax,Ci (and decreased their ratio) with short-term increases in temperature (i.e., contrasting values at 18, 25 and 32 °C), and those responses were independent of long-term treatments and did not differ among species. The Jmax,Ci:VCmax,Ci ratio was, however, significantly lower across species in warmed and reduced rainfall treatments. Collectively, these results suggest that boreal trees possess considerable short-term plasticity that may allow homeostasis of VCmax,Ci and Jmax,Ci to a longer term temperature treatment. Our results also caution against extrapolating results obtained under controlled and markedly contrasting temperature treatments to responses of photosynthetic parameters to more modest temperature changes expected in the near-term with climate warming in field conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-102
Number of pages14
JournalTree physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 29 2020

Bibliographical note

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  • A/C
  • B4WarmED
  • J
  • V
  • acclimation
  • boreal forest
  • growth temperature
  • measuring temperature
  • rainfall reduction
  • temperate forest
  • temporal scales
  • warming


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