Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 119, Issue 1–2, pp 89–100 | Cite as

Thermal acclimation of photosynthesis: on the importance of adjusting our definitions and accounting for thermal acclimation of respiration

  • Danielle A. WayEmail author
  • Wataru Yamori


While interest in photosynthetic thermal acclimation has been stimulated by climate warming, comparing results across studies requires consistent terminology. We identify five types of photosynthetic adjustments in warming experiments: photosynthesis as measured at the high growth temperature, the growth temperature, and the thermal optimum; the photosynthetic thermal optimum; and leaf-level photosynthetic capacity. Adjustments of any one of these variables need not mean a concurrent adjustment in others, which may resolve apparently contradictory results in papers using different indicators of photosynthetic acclimation. We argue that photosynthetic thermal acclimation (i.e., that benefits a plant in its new growth environment) should include adjustments of both the photosynthetic thermal optimum (T opt) and photosynthetic rates at the growth temperature (A growth), a combination termed constructive adjustment. However, many species show reduced photosynthesis when grown at elevated temperatures, despite adjustment of some photosynthetic variables, a phenomenon we term detractive adjustment. An analysis of 70 studies on 103 species shows that adjustment of T opt and A growth are more common than adjustment of other photosynthetic variables, but only half of the data demonstrate constructive adjustment. No systematic differences in these patterns were found between different plant functional groups. We also discuss the importance of thermal acclimation of respiration for net photosynthesis measurements, as respiratory temperature acclimation can generate apparent acclimation of photosynthetic processes, even if photosynthesis is unaltered. We show that while dark respiration is often used to estimate light respiration, the ratio of light to dark respiration shifts in a non-predictable manner with a change in leaf temperature.


Temperature acclimation Carbon balance Global change biology Meta-analysis Day respiration 



We thank Gaby Katul, Ram Oren, Sari Palmroth and Andrew Leakey for engaging discussions on earlier versions of the manuscript, and five anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments. This study was supported by Grants from NSERC, the US Department of Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (#2011-67003-30222), the US Department of Energy, Terrestrial Ecosystem Sciences (#11-DE-SC-0006967), and the US-Israeli Bi-national Science Foundation (#2010320) to DAW, and from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Postdoctoral Fellowships) to W.Y.

Supplementary material

11120_2013_9873_MOESM1_ESM.docx (66 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 67 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyWestern UniversityLondonCanada
  2. 2.Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Center for Environment, Health and Field SciencesChiba UniversityKashiwaJapan

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