Acclimation of photosynthesis to elevated CO2 and temperature in five British native species of contrasting functional type

C. M. Stirling, P. A. Davey, T. G. Williams, S. P. Long

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Acclimation of photosynthesis to growth at elevated CO2 concentration varies markedly between species. Species functionally classified as stress-tolerators (S) and ruderals (R), are thought to be incapable, or the least capable, of responding positively in terms of growth to elevated [CO2]. Is this pattern of response also apparent in leaf photosynthesis of wild S- and R-strategists? Acclimatory loss of a photosynthetic and growth response to elevated [CO2] is assumed to reflect limitation on capacity to utilize additional photosynthate. The doubling of pre-industrial global [CO2] is expected to coincide with a 3°C increase in mean temperature which could stimulate growth; will photosynthetic capacity at elevated [CO2] be greater when the concurrent temperature increase is simulated? Five species from natural grassland of NW Europe and of contrasting ecological strategy were grown in hemispherical greenhouses, environmentally controlled to track the external microclimate. Within a replicated design, plants were grown at (i) current ambient [CO2] and temperature, (ii) elevated [CO2] (ambient + 340 μmol mol-1) and ambient temperature, (iii) ambient [CO2] and elevated temperature (ambient + 3°C), or (iv) elevated [CO2] and elevated temperature. After 75-104 days, the CO2 response of light-saturated rates of photosynthesis (Asat) was analysed in controlled-environment cuvettes in a field laboratory. There was no acclimatory loss of photosynthetic capacity with growth in elevated [CO2] or elevated temperature over this period in Poa alpina (S), Bellis perennis (R) or Plantago lanceolata (mixed C-S-R strategist), and a significant (P < 0.05) increase in capacity in Helianthemum nummularium (S) and Poa annua (R). Photosynthetic rates of leaves grown and measured in elevated [CO2] were therefore significantly higher than rates for leaves grown and measured in ambient [CO2], for all species. With the exception of Poa alpina, stomatal conductance and stomatal limitation on Asat showed no acclimatory response to growth in elevated [CO2]. Carboxylation efficiency, determined from the initial slope of the response of Asat to intercellular CO2 concentration was significantly increased by elevated [CO2] and elevated temperature in H.nummularium, implying a possible increase in in vivo RubisCO activity. Increased carboxylation efficiency of this species was also reflected by an increase in the CO2- and light-saturated rates of photosynthesis, indicating an increased capacity for regeneration of the primary CO2 acceptor in photosynthesis. The results show that R-strategists and slow-growing S-strategists, are inherently capable of large increases in leaf photosynthetic capacity with growth in elevated [CO2] in contrast to expectations from growth studies. With the exception of P.annua, where there was a significant negative interaction between CO2 and temperature, concurrent increase in growth temperature-had little effect on this pattern of response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-246
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Acclimation
  • Elevated CO
  • Natural vegetation
  • Photosynthesis
  • Temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science(all)


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