Chapter 10 C4 Photosynthesis and Temperature

  • Rowan F. Sage
  • Ferit Kocacinar
  • David S. Kubien
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 32)


C4 plants perform poorly at low temperature, in contrast to C3 vegetation. As a consequence, low ­numbers of C4 species occur at high latitude, high elevation, and during cooler growing seasons. The mechanisms explaining the poor performance of C4 species in colder climates have not been clearly identified. Early physiological perspectives indicate that C4 species fail at low temperature due to either low quantum yield of the C4 relative to the C3 pathway, or enzyme lability in the C4 cycle, most notably at PEP regeneration by pyruvate-Pi dikinase (PPDK). Alternatively, recent phylogenetic surveys show that all C4 lineages originated from C3 ancestors adapted to warm climates, indicating the failure of most C4 species in colder environments could reflect prior heat adaptation within their respective evolutionary lineages. Numerous C4 species have independently evolved cold tolerance; these plants allow for examination of C4 photosynthesis at low temperature without complications from chilling injury. Relative to ecologically-similar C3 species, chilling-adapted C4 species have similar or slightly reduced photosynthetic capacities below 10°C and, after cold acclimation, show no chilling lability of PPDK, PEP carboxylase or other enzymes of the C4 cycle. Cold-adapted C4 species have enhanced photoprotective capacity at low ­temperature as indicated by greater levels of antioxidants and carotenoid pigments. Rubisco capacity is similar to gross CO2 assimilation rate below 20°C in cold-adapted C4 species, indicating it is an important limitation on C4 photosynthesis at cool temperature. Acclimation and adaptation of C4 species to the cold does not overcome the apparent Rubisco limitation. It is likely that a ceiling on carbon gain by insufficient Rubisco capacity at low temperature may be a leading trait that maladapts the C4 pathway to cold regions of the earth.


Bundle Sheath Bundle Sheath Cell Thermal Optimum RuBP Regeneration Capacity Grass Flora 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



– Net CO2 assimilation rate;


– Intercellular partial pressure of CO2;


– Ambient partial pressure of CO2;


– Phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase;


– Pyruvate orthophosphate dikinase;


– Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase.



The authors are grateful for support from their national funding agencies, the Canadian Natural Science and Engineering Council (NSERC) which funded RF Sage and DS Kubien, and The Scientific and Technological Research Council of ­Turkey (TÜBİTAK) grant no: 106O384 to F. Kocacinar. We also thank Ms. Debbie Tam for technical assistance with the the work that was originally generated by the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Netherlands 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rowan F. Sage
    • 1
  • Ferit Kocacinar
    • 2
  • David S. Kubien
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyThe University of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of ForestryKahramanmaras Sutcu Imam UniversityKahramanmarasTurkey
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada

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