A new model reveals how plants respond to a warming climate

Last updated: 18 Jan, 2019

A plant’s ability to cope with rising temperatures is one of the main factors that affects whether a plant shifts its growth range, or faces extinction. How a plant species reacts to temperature change might vary depending on location, due to genetic adaptations (evolved traits) to climate, and timescale, due to temporary adjustments to temperature change (acclimation).


How photosynthesis responds to temperature is one of the key factors used to predict how plants respond to warming in global vegetation models. At the moment, however, these models don’t have the ability to reliably represent acclimation and adaptation of photosynthesis in response to temperature change.



Researchers at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, and many other institutions around the world, collected a global dataset of photosynthetic CO2 response curves, including data from 141 species from the tropical rainforest to the Arctic tundra. The global team of researchers used these data to model the mechanisms that drive how photosynthesis responds to temperature acclimation and adaptation.


The researchers found that, globally, variation in the optimum temperature for photosynthesis was explained by the fundamental biochemical limitations of the reactions occurring during photosynthesis. Acclimation to temperature change was a stronger driver of this variation.


Based on these results, Dushan Kumarathunge and colleagues created a summary model to represent how photosynthesis responds to changing temperatures, and found that it predicted global variation in optimal temperatures for photosynthesis with high accuracy.


This work should help to enable improved predictions of how ecosystems will function under climate change.



Based on a news release. Adapted by Mike Whitfield. Thumbnail image by Ali Shah Lakhani on Unspash.


Read the paper: Kumarathunge, D. P., Medlyn, B. E., Drake, J. E., Tjoelker, M. G., Aspinwall, M. J., Battaglia, M. , Cano, F. J., Kelsey, C. R., Cavaleri, M. A., Cernusak, L. A., Chambers, J. Q., Crous, K. Y., De Kauwe, M. G., Dillaway, D. N., Dreyer, E., Ellsworth, D. S., Ghannoum, O., Han, Q., Hikosaka, K., Jensen, A. M., Kelly, J. W., Kruger, E. L., Mercado, L. M., Onoda, Y., Reich, P. B., Rogers, A. , Slot, M., Smith, N. G., Tarvainen, L., Tissue, D. T., Togashi, H. F., Tribuzy, E. S., Uddling, J., Vårhammar, A., Wallin, G., Warren, J. M. and Way, D. A. (2018) Acclimation and adaptation components of the temperature dependence of plant photosynthesis at the global scale. New Phytologist. doi: 10.1111/nph.15668