Climate-driven changes in leaf respiration (R) in darkness have the potential to determine whether low productivity ecosystems exhibit positive or negative carbon balances.
We investigated whether sustained exposure to full sunlight, shade and seasonal drought alters the temperature response of leaf R of field-grown Quercus ilex subsp. ballota in a dry-land continental Mediterranean ecosystem. The plants studied, experience large diurnal and seasonal variations in temperature.
Whilst growth irradiance impacted on photosynthesis, it had little effect on the short-term temperature dependence of leaf R. Moreover, although basal rates of leaf R (i.e. rates of R at a common measuring temperature) were higher in sun-exposed than shade-exposed leaves, growth irradiance had little impact on the degree of acclimation to seasonal changes in temperature and/or moisture. Basal rates of leaf R were higher in winter than summer in both sun-exposed and shaded plants. Estimated Q(10) values (i.e. proportional increase in R per 10 degrees C rise in temperature) for leaf R were greater in winter than summer; however, no seasonal variation was found in the apparent activation energy (E-0) of leaf R. These observations were used to construct a simple Arrhenius model that fully accounted for both daily and seasonal variations in the temperature dependence of R in both sun-exposed and shaded plants. Crucial to the model was accounting for the seasonal and irradiance-dependent shifts in the basal rate of leaf R.
Although the balance between daily R and photosynthesis increased markedly in summer (particularly under full sun), the increase in this ratio was markedly less than would have been the case if leaf R had not acclimated to the high average day time temperatures in summer.
It is concluded that seasonal acclimation of leaf R plays a crucial role in determining the viability of tree growth in dry-land, low productivity forest ecosystems.