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Handling the heat – photosynthetic thermal stress in tropical trees
New Phytologist  (IF10.151),  Pub Date : 2021-10-16, DOI: 10.1111/nph.17809
Lasse Tarvainen, Maria Wittemann, Myriam Mujawamariya, Aloysie Manishimwe, Etienne Zibera, Bonaventure Ntirugulirwa, Claire Ract, Olivier J. L. Manzi, Mats X. Andersson, Cornelia Spetea, Donat Nsabimana, Göran Wallin, Johan Uddling

  • Warming climate increases the risk for harmful leaf temperatures in terrestrial plants, causing heat stress and loss of productivity. The heat sensitivity may be particularly high in equatorial tropical tree species adapted to a thermally stable climate.
  • Thermal thresholds of the photosynthetic system of sun-exposed leaves were investigated in three tropical montane tree species native to Rwanda with different growth and water use strategies (Harungana montana, Syzygium guineense and Entandrophragma exselsum). Measurements of chlorophyll fluorescence, leaf gas exchange, morphology, chemistry and temperature were made at three common gardens along an elevation/temperature gradient.
  • Heat tolerance acclimated to maximum leaf temperature (Tleaf) across the species. At the warmest sites, the thermal threshold for normal function of photosystem II was exceeded in the species with the highest Tleaf despite their higher heat tolerance. This was not the case in the species with the highest transpiration rates and lowest Tleaf. The results point to two differently effective strategies for managing thermal stress: tolerance through physiological adjustment of leaf osmolality and thylakoid membrane lipid composition, or avoidance through morphological adaptation and transpiratory cooling.
  • More severe photosynthetic heat stress in low-transpiring montane climax species may result in a competitive disadvantage compared to high-transpiring pioneer species with more efficient leaf cooling.