Strong thermal acclimation of photosynthesis in tropical and temperate wet-forest tree species: the importance of altered Rubisco content

Andrew P. Scafaro, Shuang Xiang, Benedict M. Long, Nur H A Bahar, Lasantha K. Weerasinghe, Danielle Creek, John R. Evans, Peter B. Reich, Owen K. Atkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Understanding of the extent of acclimation of light-saturated net photosynthesis (An) to temperature (T), and associated underlying mechanisms, remains limited. This is a key knowledge gap given the importance of thermal acclimation for plant functioning, both under current and future higher temperatures, limiting the accuracy and realism of Earth system model (ESM) predictions. Given this, we analysed and modelled T-dependent changes in photosynthetic capacity in 10 wet-forest tree species: six from temperate forests and four from tropical forests. Temperate and tropical species were each acclimated to three daytime growth temperatures (Tgrowth): temperate – 15, 20 and 25 °C; tropical – 25, 30 and 35 °C. CO2 response curves of An were used to model maximal rates of RuBP (ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate) carboxylation (Vcmax) and electron transport (Jmax) at each treatment's respective Tgrowth and at a common measurement T (25 °C). SDS-PAGE gels were used to determine abundance of the CO2-fixing enzyme, Rubisco. Leaf chlorophyll, nitrogen (N) and mass per unit leaf area (LMA) were also determined. For all species and Tgrowth, An at current atmospheric CO2 partial pressure was Rubisco-limited. Across all species, LMA decreased with increasing Tgrowth. Similarly, area-based rates of Vcmax at a measurement T of 25 °C (Vcmax 25) linearly declined with increasing Tgrowth, linked to a concomitant decline in total leaf protein per unit leaf area and Rubisco as a percentage of leaf N. The decline in Rubisco constrained Vcmax and An for leaves developed at higher Tgrowth and resulted in poor predictions of photosynthesis by currently widely used models that do not account for Tgrowth-mediated changes in Rubisco abundance that underpin the thermal acclimation response of photosynthesis in wet-forest tree species. A new model is proposed that accounts for the effect of Tgrowth-mediated declines in Vcmax 25 on An, complementing current photosynthetic thermal acclimation models that do not account for T sensitivity of Vcmax 25.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2783-2800
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Overseas Foundation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and National Natural Science Foundation of China (31000290, 31370594) and International Sci-tech Cooperation Program of China (2013DFR90670) to SX, and Australian Research Council support (FT0991448, DP0986823, DP1093759 and CE140100008 to OKA).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • Rubisco content
  • V
  • climate modelling
  • earth system models
  • photosynthesis
  • photosynthesis modelling
  • temperature
  • thermal acclimation
  • tropical trees


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