• day-to-day variation;
  • diurnal variability;
  • heat stress;
  • optimum temperature;
  • osmotic potential;
  • photo-synthetic electron transport;
  • sugar concentration


In water-stressed leaves, accumulation of neutral osmotica enhances the heat tolerance of photosynthetic electron transport. There are large diurnal and day-to-day changes in leaf sugar content because of variations in net photosynthetic production, respiration and retranslocation. To test the hypothesis that diurnal and day-to-day variations in leaf sugar content and osmotic potential significantly modify the responses to temperature of photosynthetic electron transport rate, we studied chlorophyll fluorescence rise temperatures (i.e. critical temperatures at break-points in fluorescence versus temperature response curves, corresponding to enhanced damage of PSII centers and detachment of pigment-binding complexes) in the dark at a background of weak far-red light (TFR) and under actinic light (TL), and responses of foliar photosynthetic electron transport rate to temperature using gas-exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence techniques in the temperate tree Populus tremula L. Sucrose and sorbitol feeding experiments demonstrated strong increases of fluorescence rise temperatures TFR and TL with decreasing leaf osmotic potential and increasing internal sugar concentration. Similar TFR and TL changes were observed in response to natural variation in leaf sugar concentration throughout the day. Increases in leaf sugar concentration led to an overall down-regulation of the rate of photosynthetic electron transport (J), but increases in the optimum temperature (Topt) of J. For the entire dataset, Topt varied from 33.8 °C to 43 °C due to natural variation in sugars and from 33.8 °C to 52.6 °C in the sugar feeding experiments, underscoring the importance of sugars in modifying the response of J to temperature. However, the correlations between the sugar concentration and fluorescence rise temperature varied between the days. This variation in fluorescence rise temperature was best explained by the average temperature of the preceding 5 or 6 days. In addition, there was a significant year-to-year variation in heat sensitivity of photosynthetic electron transport that was associated with year-to-year differences in endogenous sugar content. Our data demonstrate a diurnal variation in leaf heat tolerance due to changes in sugar concentration, but they also show that this short-term modification in heat tolerance is superimposed by long-term changes in heat resistance driven by average temperature of preceding days.