Climate changes increasingly threaten plant growth and productivity. Such changes are complex and involve multiple environmental factors, including rising CO2 levels and climate extreme events. As the molecular and physiological mechanisms underlying plant responses to realistic future climate extreme conditions are still poorly understood, a multiple organizational level analysis (i.e. eco-physiological, biochemical, and transcriptional) was performed, using Arabidopsis exposed to incremental heat wave and water deficit under ambient and elevated CO2. The climate extreme resulted in biomass reduction, photosynthesis inhibition, and considerable increases in stress parameters. Photosynthesis was a major target as demonstrated at the physiological and transcriptional levels. In contrast, the climate extreme treatment induced a protective effect on oxidative membrane damage, most likely as a result of strongly increased lipophilic antioxidants and membrane-protecting enzymes. Elevated CO2 significantly mitigated the negative impact of a combined heat and drought, as apparent in biomass reduction, photosynthesis inhibition, chlorophyll fluorescence decline, H2O2 production, and protein oxidation. Analysis of enzymatic and molecular antioxidants revealed that the stress-mitigating CO2 effect operates through up-regulation of antioxidant defense metabolism, as well as by reduced photorespiration resulting in lowered oxidative pressure. Therefore, exposure to future climate extreme episodes will negatively impact plant growth and production, but elevated CO2 is likely to mitigate this effect.
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