Photoprotection in an ecological context: the remarkable complexity of thermal energy dissipation


Author for correspondence: Barbara Demmig-Adams Tel: +1 303 4925541 Fax: +1 303 4928699 Email:



  • Summary 11

  • I. Introduction 12
  • II. Photoprotection by flexible thermal energy dissipation 13
  • III. Photoprotection by sustained thermal dissipation 14
  • IV. Association of sustained photoprotection with photoinhibition, carbon export capacity and plant growth 18
  • Acknowledgements 19

  • References 19


This review places photoprotection into the context of ecology and species diversity. The focus is on photoprotection via the safe removal – as thermal energy – of excess solar energy absorbed by the light collecting system, which counteracts the formation of reactive oxygen species. An update on the surprisingly complex, multiple variations of thermal energy dissipation is presented, placing these different forms into ecological and genetic contexts. Zeaxanthin-facilitated, flexible thermal dissipation associated with the PsbS protein and controlled by the trans-thylakoid pH gradient apparently occurs ubiquitously in plants, and can become sustained (and thus less flexible) at low temperatures. Long-lived, slow-growing plants with low intrinsic capacities for photosynthesis have greater capacities for this flexible dissipation than short-lived, fast-growing species. Furthermore, potent, but inflexible (zeaxanthin-facilitated) thermal dissipation, prominent in evergreen species under prolonged environmental stress, is characterized with respect to the involvement of photosystem II core rearrangement and/or degradation as well as the absence of control by trans-thylakoid pH and, possibly, PsbS. A role of PsbS-related proteins in photoprotection is discussed.