The frequency and intensity of heat waves are predicted to increase. This study investigates whether heat waves would have the same impact as a constant increase in temperature with the same heat sum, and whether there would be any interactive effects of elevated [CO2] and soil moisture content. We grew Quercus rubra seedlings in treatment chambers maintained at either ambient or elevated [CO2] (380 or 700 μmol CO2 mol−1) with temperature treatments of ambient, ambient +3 °C, moderate heat wave (+6 °C every other week) or severe heat wave (+12 °C every fourth week) temperatures. Averaged over a 4-week period, and the entire growing season, the three elevated temperature treatments had the same average temperature and heat sum. Half the seedlings were watered to a soil water content near field capacity, half to about 50% of this value. Foliar gas exchange measurements were performed morning and afternoon (9:00 and 15:00 hours) before, during and after an applied heat wave in August 2010. Biomass accumulation was measured after five heat wave cycles. Under ambient [CO2] and well-watered conditions, biomass accumulation was highest in the +3 °C treatment, intermediate in the +6 °C heat wave and lowest in the +12 °C heat wave treatment. This response was mitigated by elevated [CO2]. Low soil moisture significantly decreased net photosynthesis (Anet) and biomass in all [CO2] and temperature treatments. The +12 °C heat wave reduced afternoon Anet by 23% in ambient [CO2]. Although this reduction was relatively greater under elevated [CO2], Anet values during this heat wave were still 34% higher than under ambient [CO2]. We concluded that heat waves affected biomass growth differently than the same amount of heat applied uniformly over the growing season, and that the plant response to heat waves also depends on [CO2] and soil moisture conditions.
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