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Keywords:

  • Eucalyptus;
  • diurnal variation;
  • leaves;
  • Q10;
  • respiration;
  • seasonal variation;
  • temperature

ABSTRACT

We investigated the relationship between daily and seasonal temperature variation and dark respiratory CO2 release by leaves of snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora Sieb. ex Spreng) that were grown in their natural habitat or under controlled-environment conditions. The open grassland field site in SE Australia was characterized by large seasonal and diurnal changes in air temperature. On each measurement day, leaf respiration rates in darkness were measured in situ at 2–3 h intervals over a 24 h period, with measurements being conducted at the ambient leaf temperature. The rate of respiration at a set measuring temperature (i.e. apparent ‘respiratory capacity’) was greater in seedlings grown under low average daily temperatures (i.e. acclimation occurred), both in the field and under controlled-environment conditions. The sensitivity of leaf respiration to diurnal changes in temperature (i.e. the Q10 of leaf respiration) exhibited little seasonal variation over much of the year. However, Q10 values were significantly greater on cold winter days (i.e. when daily average and minimum air temperatures were below 6° and –1 °C, respectively). These differences in Q10 values were not due to bias arizing from the contrasting daily temperature amplitudes in winter and summer, as the Q10 of leaf respiration was constant over a wide temperature range in short-term experiments. Due to the higher Q10 values in winter, there was less difference between winter and summer leaf respiration rates measured at 5 °C than at 25 °C. The net result of these changes was that there was relatively little difference in total daily leaf respiratory CO2 release per unit leaf dry mass in winter and summer. Under controlled-environment conditions, acclimation of respiration to growth temperature occurred in as little as 1–3 d. Acclimation was associated with a change in the concentration of soluble sugars under controlled conditions, but not in the field. Our data suggest that acclimation in the field may be associated with the onset of cold-induced photo-inhibition. We conclude that cold-acclimation of dark respiration in snow gum leaves is characterized by changes in both the temperature sensitivity and apparent ‘capacity’ of the respiratory apparatus, and that such changes will have an important impact on the carbon economy of snow gum plants.