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Comparison of temperate and tropical rainforest tree species: growth responses to temperature


*Australian National Herbarium, CSIRO Plant Industry, Black Mountain, GPO BOX 1600, ACT 2601, Australia. E-mail:


Abstract Aim  To investigate whether the latitudinal distribution of rainforest trees in Australia can be explained by their growth responses to temperature.

Methods  The rainforest canopy trees Acmena smithii (Poir.) Merrill & Perry, Alstonia scholaris (L.) R. Br., Castanospermum australe Cunn. & C. Fraser ex Hook., Eucryphia lucida (Labill.) Baill., Heritiera trifoliolata (F. Muell.) Kosterm., Nothofagus cunninghamii (Hook.) Oerst., Sloanea woollsii F. Muell. and Tristaniopsis laurina (Sm.) Wilson & Waterhouse were selected to cover the latitudinal range of rainforests in eastern Australia. Seedlings of these species were grown under a range of day/night temperature regimes (14/6, 19/11, 22/14, 25/17, and 30/22 °C) in controlled-environment cabinets. These seedlings were harvested after 16 weeks to determine differences in growth rate and biomass allocation among species and temperature regimes.

Results  The temperate species showed maximum growth at lower temperatures than the tropical species. However, there was considerable overlap in the growth rates of the temperate and tropical rainforest types across the temperature range used. Maximum growth of the tropical rainforest types was associated with changes in biomass allocation whereas the temperate rainforest types showed no significant changes in biomass allocation across the temperature range.

Main conclusions  All species showed temperatures for maximum growth that were considerably higher than those previously shown for maximum net photosynthesis. The growth responses to temperature of the rainforest species under these experimental conditions provided limited evidence for their restriction to certain latitudes. These growth responses to temperature showed that the physiological assumptions used in various types of vegetation-climate models may not be true of Australian rainforest trees.