An extreme heatwave enhanced the xanthophyll de-epoxidation state in leaves of Eucalyptus trees grown in the field

  • Namraj Dhami
  • John E. Drake
  • Mark G. Tjoelker
  • David T. Tissue
  • Christopher I. CazzonelliEmail author
Research Article


Heatwaves are becoming more frequent with climate warming and can impact tree growth and reproduction. Eucalyptus parramattensis can cope with an extreme heatwave in the field via transpiratory cooling and enhanced leaf thermal tolerance that protected foliar tissues from photo-inhibition and photo-oxidation during natural midday irradiance. Here, we explored whether changes in foliar carotenoids and/or the xanthophyll cycle state can facilitate leaf acclimation to long-term warming and/or an extreme heatwave event. We found that leaves had similar carotenoid levels when grown for one year under ambient and experimental long-term warming (+ 3 °C) conditions in whole tree chambers. Exposure to a 4-day heatwave (> 43 °C) significantly altered the xanthophyll de-epoxidation state of carotenoids revealing one mechanism by which trees could minimise foliar photo-oxidative damage. The levels of zeaxanthin were significantly higher in both young and old leaves during the heatwave, revealing that violaxanthin de-epoxidation and perhaps de novo zeaxanthin synthesis contributed to enhancement of the xanthophyll cycle state. In a future climate of long-term warming and increased heatwave events, leaves of E. parramattensis will be able to utilise biochemical strategies to alter the xanthophyll cycle state and cope with extreme temperatures under natural solar irradiation.


Carotenoid Xanthophyll de-epoxidation state Zeaxanthin Heat stress Photosynthesis Eucalyptus 



The long-term warming and heatwave experiment in the whole tree chambers was supported by Australian Research Council Discovery Grant DP140103415 (to MGT, JED, DTT), New South Wales government Climate Action Grant (NSW T07/CAG/016) and Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University. ND was supported by an International Australian Postgraduate research fellowship awarded by Western Sydney University. Carotenoid analyses were partially supported by Australian Research Council Discovery Grant DP130102593 (to CIC). We thank Dushan Kumarathunge of Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment for his assistance during leaf sample collection.

Author contributions

CIC and ND conceived idea to link xanthophyll de-epoxidation to extreme heatwave. ND performed sample collection and pigment measurements. JED, MGT and DTT developed and implemented the experimental design of the long-term warming treatment and heatwave event in the whole tree chambers. MGT conducted the statistical analyses. CIC and ND analysed data and wrote the manuscript with critical input from all authors.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Prof. H.S. Srivastava Foundation for Science and Society 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hawkesbury Institute for the EnvironmentWestern Sydney UniversityPenrithAustralia
  2. 2.Forest and Natural Resources ManagementSUNY-ESFSyracuseUSA
  3. 3.School of Health and Allied SciencesPokhara UniversityGandakiNepal

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