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General patterns of acclimation of leaf respiration to elevated temperatures across biomes and plant types

Abstract

Respiration is instrumental for survival and growth of plants, but increasing costs of maintenance processes with warming have the potential to change the balance between photosynthetic carbon uptake and respiratory carbon release from leaves. Climate warming may cause substantial increases of leaf respiratory carbon fluxes, which would further impact the carbon balance of terrestrial vegetation. However, downregulation of respiratory physiology via thermal acclimation may mitigate this impact. We have conducted a meta-analysis with data collected from 43 independent studies to assess quantitatively the thermal acclimation capacity of leaf dark respiration to warming of terrestrial plant species from across the globe. In total, 282 temperature contrasts were included in the meta-analysis, representing 103 species of forbs, graminoids, shrubs, trees and lianas native to arctic, boreal, temperate and tropical ecosystems. Acclimation to warming was found to decrease respiration at a set temperature in the majority of the observations, regardless of the biome of origin and growth form, but respiration was not completely homeostatic across temperatures in the majority of cases. Leaves that developed at a new temperature had a greater capacity for acclimation than those transferred to a new temperature. We conclude that leaf respiration of most terrestrial plants can acclimate to gradual warming, potentially reducing the magnitude of the positive feedback between climate and the carbon cycle in a warming world. More empirical data are, however, needed to improve our understanding of interspecific variation in thermal acclimation capacity, and to better predict patterns in respiratory carbon fluxes both within and across biomes in the face of ongoing global warming.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge three anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. Financial support came from National Science Foundation-Integrated Organismal Systems Grant 1051789 (KK) and a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute FOREST-GEO post-doctoral research fellowship (MS).

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Correspondence to Martijn Slot.

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Communicated by Rowan Sage.

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Slot, M., Kitajima, K. General patterns of acclimation of leaf respiration to elevated temperatures across biomes and plant types. Oecologia 177, 885–900 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-014-3159-4

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Global patterns
  • Meta-analysis
  • Plant ecophysiology
  • Warming