• climate change;
  • mesophyll conductance


Common gardens were established along a ∼900 km latitudinal transect to examine factors limiting geographical distributions of boreal and temperate tree species in eastern North America. Boreal representatives were trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) and paper birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh.), while temperate species were eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides Bartr ex. Marsh var. deltoides) and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua L.). The species were compared with respect to adjustments of leaf photosynthetic metabolism along the transect, with emphasis on temperature sensitivities of the maximum rate of ribulose bisphosphate (RuBP) carboxylation (EV) and regeneration (EJ). During leaf development, the average air temperature (Tgrowth) differed between the coolest and warmest gardens by 12 °C. Evidence of photosynthetic thermal acclimation (metabolic shifts compensating for differences in Tgrowth) was generally lacking in all species. Namely, neither EV nor EJ was positively related to Tgrowth. Correspondingly, the optimum temperature (Topt) of ambient photosynthesis (Asat) did not vary significantly with Tgrowth. Modest variation in Topt was explained by the combination of EV plus the slope and curvature of the parabolic temperature response of mesophyll conductance (gm). All in all, species differed little in photosynthetic responses to climate. Furthermore, the adaptive importance of photosynthetic thermal acclimation was overshadowed by gm's influence on Asat's temperature response.