Acclimation of leaf respiration to temperature is rapid and related to specific leaf area, soluble sugars and leaf nitrogen across three temperate deciduous tree species


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  • 1Rates of plant respiration are sensitive to temperature, and modulated by acclimation to prevailing temperature and adaptation to the climate of origin.
  • 2Our objective was to evaluate the rapidity and magnitude of acclimation of leaf respiration (Rd) to natural temperature events in field-grown tree seedlings and to assess inter- and intraspecific variation across seasons and years.
  • 3We measured Rd and associated traits of seedlings of three temperate deciduous species, Quercus alba L., Quercus rubra L. and Acer rubrum L., growing in a common garden in St Paul, Minnesota, USA. Seedlings of each species were derived from populations spanning their range from cool/dry (Minnesota/Wisconsin) to warm/moist (North Carolina/Louisiana) regions.
  • 4Measurements at a common temperature (24 °C) were made during consecutive cool- and warm-weather systems (differing by 7–10·5 °C) across two growing seasons.
  • 5Rd rates following the warmest temperatures were 62% lower, on average, than those following cool temperatures. There was little evidence that respiration per se, or its response to temperature, depended on adaptation to climate of origin.
  • 6Temperature, specific leaf area, and leaf soluble sugar and nitrogen concentrations were important predictors of Rd and together explained 77% of the variation across species and populations.
  • 7To predict forest CO2 exchange responses to global change accurately, parameters are needed that account for the acclimation of respiration to prevailing temperature.