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Thermal acclimation of leaf and root respiration: an investigation comparing inherently fast- and slow-growing plant species


O. K. Atkin, tel. + 44 0 1904 328560, e-mail: address: Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, GPO Box 475, Canberra, ACT 2601 Australia.


We investigated the extent to which leaf and root respiration (R) differ in their response to short- and long-term changes in temperature in several contrasting plant species (herbs, grasses, shrubs and trees) that differ in inherent relative growth rate (RGR, increase in mass per unit starting mass and time). Two experiments were conducted using hydroponically grown plants. In the long-term (LT) acclimation experiment, 16 species were grown at constant 18, 23 and 28 °C. In the short-term (ST) acclimation experiment, 9 of those species were grown at 25/20 °C (day/night) and then shifted to a 15/10 °C for 7 days. Short-term Q10 values (proportional change in R per 10 °C) and the degree of acclimation to longer-term changes in temperature were compared. The effect of growth temperature on root and leaf soluble sugar and nitrogen concentrations was examined. Light-saturated photosynthesis (Asat) was also measured in the LT acclimation experiment. Our results show that Q10 values and the degree of acclimation are highly variable amongst species and that roots exhibit lower Q10 values than leaves over the 15–25 °C measurement temperature range. Differences in RGR or concentrations of soluble sugars/nitrogen could not account for the inter-specific differences in the Q10 or degree of acclimation. There were no systematic differences in the ability of roots and leaves to acclimate when plants developed under contrasting temperatures (LT acclimation). However, acclimation was greater in both leaves and roots that developed at the growth temperature (LT acclimation) than in pre-existing leaves and roots shifted from one temperature to another (ST acclimation). The balance between leaf R and Asat was maintained in plants grown at different temperatures, regardless of their inherent relative growth rate. We conclude that there is tight coupling between the respiratory acclimation and the temperature under which leaves and roots developed and that acclimation plays an important role in determining the relationship between respiration and photosynthesis.