, Volume 175, Issue 4, pp 1051–1061 | Cite as

A comparative analysis of photosynthetic recovery from thermal stress: a desert plant case study

  • Ellen M. Curtis
  • Charles A. Knight
  • Katherina Petrou
  • Andrea Leigh
Highlighted Student Research


Our understanding of the effects of heat stress on plant photosynthesis has progressed rapidly in recent years through the use of chlorophyll a fluorescence techniques. These methods frequently involve the treatment of leaves for several hours in dark conditions to estimate declines in maximum quantum yield of photsystem II (F V/F M), rarely accounting for the recovery of effective quantum yield (ΔF/F M′) after thermally induced damage occurs. Exposure to high temperature extremes, however, can occur over minutes, rather than hours, and recent studies suggest that light influences damage recovery. Also, the current focus on agriculturally important crops may lead to assumptions about average stress responses and a poor understanding about the variation among species’ thermal tolerance. We present a chlorophyll a fluorescence protocol incorporating subsaturating light to address whether species’ thermal tolerance thresholds (T 50) are related to the ability to recover from short-term heat stress in 41 Australian desert species. We found that damage incurred by 15-min thermal stress events was most strongly negatively correlated with the capacity of species to recover after a stress event of 50 °C in summer. Phylogenetically independent contrast analyses revealed that basal divergences partially explain this relationship. Although T 50 and recovery capacity were positively correlated, the relationship was weaker for species with high T 50 values (>51 °C). Results highlight that, even within a single desert biome, species vary widely in their physiological response to high temperature stress and recovery metrics provide more comprehensive information than damage metrics alone.


Photosynthetic recovery High temperature stress Thermal tolerance Chlorophyll fluorescence Arid zone 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the Port Augusta City Council for its generous support in providing an onsite laboratory, infrastructure and site access at the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden. We further thank Peter Ralph from the UTS Climate Change Cluster and Brad Murray for thoughtful discussions. We thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions on an earlier version of this manuscript. We are grateful to the staff of the AALBG, Ronda and Peter Hall (Friends of the AALBG), Melinda Cook, Ben Ford, Norman Booth (ANSTO), Peter Jones, Rod Hungerford and staff at the UTS Workshop. Ellen Curtis was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest and that experiments comply with the current laws of Australia, where the experiments were performed.

Supplementary material

442_2014_2988_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (302 kb)
Phylogenetic tree showing the relatedness among the 41 Australian southern desert plant species used in the study (PDF 302 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellen M. Curtis
    • 1
  • Charles A. Knight
    • 2
  • Katherina Petrou
    • 3
  • Andrea Leigh
    • 1
  1. 1.School of the EnvironmentUniversity of Technology, SydneyUltimoAustralia
  2. 2.Biological Sciences DepartmentCalifornia Polytechnic State UniversitySan Luis ObispoUSA
  3. 3.Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster (C3), School of the Environment University of Technology, SydneyUltimoAustralia

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