, Volume 189, Issue 1, pp 37–46 | Cite as

Intracanopy adjustment of leaf-level thermal tolerance is associated with microclimatic variation across the canopy of a desert tree (Acacia papyrocarpa)

  • Ellen M. Curtis
  • Charles A. Knight
  • Andrea Leigh
Physiological ecology - original research


Tree crowns are spatially heterogeneous, sometimes resulting in significant variation in microclimate across the canopy, particularly with respect to temperature. Yet it is not known whether such localised temperature variation equates to intracanopy variation in leaf-level physiological thermal tolerance. Here, we studied whether microclimate variation across the canopy of a dominant desert tree equated to localised variation in leaf thermal thresholds (T50) among four canopy positions: upper south, upper north, lower south, lower north. Principal component analysis was used to generate a composite climatic stress variable (CSTRESS) from canopy temperature, vapour pressure deficit, and relative humidity. We also determined the average number of days that maximum temperatures exceeded the air temperature equating to this species’ critical threshold of 49 °C (AT49). To estimate how closely leaf temperatures track ambient temperature, we predicted the thermal time constant (τ) for leaves at each canopy position. We found that CSTRESS and AT49 were significantly greater in lower and north-facing positions in the canopy. Differences in wind speed with height resulted in significantly longer predicted τ for leaves positioned at lower, north-facing positions. Variation in these drivers was correlated with significantly higher T50 for leaves in these more environmentally stressful canopy positions. Our findings suggest that this species may optimise resources to protect against thermal damage at a whole-plant level. They also indicate that, particularly in desert environments with steep intracanopy microclimatic gradients, whole-plant carbon models could substantially under- or overestimate productivity under heat stress, depending on where in the canopy T50 is measured.


Canopy microclimate Desert plants Heat stress Leaf plasticity Thermotolerance 



This project was undertaken as part of a research collaboration agreement between the University of Technology, Sydney and the Port Augusta City Council, South Australia, including support from the Friends of the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens and nursery staff. The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of an Australian Wildlife Society grant to EMC for equipment. We also thank Ronda and Peter Hall, Dr, Brad Murray, Alicia Cook and staff at the UTS Workshop for technical assistance. This research was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

Author contribution statement

AL and EMC generated hypotheses and designed the thermal tolerance work; EMC collected and analysed the data; CAK provided advice and contributed fundamental intellectual input; EMC led the writing, with AL revising the final text.

Supplementary material

442_2018_4289_MOESM1_ESM.docx (236 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 236 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellen M. Curtis
    • 1
  • Charles A. Knight
    • 2
  • Andrea Leigh
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Life SciencesUniversity of Technology SydneyBroadwayAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesCalifornia Polytechnic State UniversitySan Luis ObispoUSA

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