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Boreal conifers maintain carbon uptake with warming despite failure to track optimal temperatures

Publication Type
Journal Name
Nature Communications
Publication Date
Page Numbers
1 to 11

Warming shifts the thermal optimum of net photosynthesis (ToptA) to higher temperatures. However, our knowledge of this shift is mainly derived from seedlings grown in greenhouses under ambient atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) conditions. It is unclear whether shifts in ToptA of field-grown trees will keep pace with the temperatures predicted for the 21st century under elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Here, using a whole-ecosystem warming controlled experiment under either ambient or elevated CO2 levels, we show that ToptA of mature boreal conifers increased with warming. However, shifts in ToptA did not keep pace with warming as ToptA only increased by 0.26–0.35 °C per 1 °C of warming. Net photosynthetic rates estimated at the mean growth temperature increased with warming in elevated CO2 spruce, while remaining constant in ambient CO2 spruce and in both ambient CO2 and elevated CO2 tamarack with warming. Although shifts in ToptA of these two species are insufficient to keep pace with warming, these boreal conifers can thermally acclimate photosynthesis to maintain carbon uptake in future air temperatures.