Ecophysiology of Photosynthesis

Volume 100 of the series Springer Study Edition pp 529-549

Are C4 Pathway Plants Threatened by Global Climatic Change?

  • S. Henderson
  • , P. Hattersley
  • , S. von Caemmerer
  • , C. B. Osmond

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During his decades of leadership in plant photosynthetic ecophysiology Otto Lange has seen many major developments in the field, and participated in most of them. Perhaps none of these fields has been more exciting than the recognition of the ecophysiological implications of the C4 pathway of photo-synthetic carbon metabolism. Perhaps none will be so profound as the response of vegetation to the now well established, inexorable increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration, the major greenhouse gas and the principal driver of impending global climatic change. Man, the dominant mammal, has effectively accelerated global respiration about 106 fold, by the combustion of several billion years’ worth of accumulated photosynthate and other organic carbon in the course of a few hundred years. Here we ask if this activity which is leading to a rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration will directly affect the relative fitness of C4-pathway plants, which may have evolved in response to low atmospheric CO2 concentration.