Modification of the response of photosynthetic productivity to rising temperature by atmospheric CO2 concentrations: Has its importance been underestimated?

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


Abstract. Climate change will include correlated increases in temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration (Ca). Rising temperatures will increase the ratio of photorespiratory loss of carbon to photosynthetic gain, whilst rising Ca will have an opposing effect. The mechanism of these effects at the level of carboxylation in C3 photosynthesis are quantitatively well understood and provide a basis for models of the response of leaf and canopy carbon exchange to climate change. The principles of such a model are referred to here and used to quantitatively examine the implications of concurrent increase in temperature and Ca. Simulations of leaf photosynthesis show the increase, with elevation of Ca from 350 to 650 μmol mol‐1, in light saturated rates of CO2 uptake (Asat) and maximum quantum yields (φ) to rise with temperature. An increase in Ca from 350 to 650 μmol mol‐1 can increase Asat by 20% at 10°C and by 105% at 35°C, and can raise the temperature optimum of Asat by 5°C. This pattern of change agrees closely with experimental data. At the canopy level, simulations also suggest a strong interaction of increased temperature and CO2 concentration. Predictions are compared with the findings of long‐term field studies. The principles used here suggest that elevated Ca will alter both the magnitude of the response of leaf and canopy carbon gain to rising temperature, and sometimes, the direction of response. Findings question the value of models for predicting plant production in response to climate change which ignore the direct effects of rising Ca and the modifications that rising Ca imposes on the temperature response of net CO2 exchange.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)729-739
Number of pages11
JournalPlant, Cell & Environment
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • Rubisco
  • climate change: greenhouse effect; C photosynthesis
  • ecosystem processes
  • global warming
  • mathematical models
  • plant canopies
  • primary production
  • quantum yield
  • rising atmospheric CO concentrations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science

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