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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Role of Plant Traits in Photosynthesis and Thermal Damage Avoidance under Warmer and Drier Climates in Boreal Forests

Ruiz-Perez, Guiomar; Launiainen, Samuli; Vico, Giulia


In the future, boreal forests will face warmer and in some cases drier conditions, potentially resulting in extreme leaf temperatures and reduced photosynthesis. One potential and still partially unexplored avenue to prepare boreal forest for future climates is the identification of plant traits that may support photosynthetic rates under a changing climate. However, the interplay among plant traits, soil water depletion and the occurrence of heat stress has been seldom explored in boreal forests. Here, a mechanistic model describing energy and mass exchanges among the soil, plant and atmosphere is employed to identify which combinations of growing conditions and plant traits allow trees to simultaneously keep high photosynthetic rates and prevent thermal damage under current and future growing conditions. Our results show that the simultaneous lack of precipitation and warm temperatures is the main trigger of thermal damage and reduction of photosynthesis. Traits that facilitate the coupling of leaves to the atmosphere are key to avoid thermal damage and guarantee the maintenance of assimilation rates in the future. Nevertheless, the same set of traits may not maximize forest productivity over current growing conditions. As such, an effective trait selection needs to explicitly consider the expected changes in the growing conditions, both in terms of averages and extremes.


boreal forest; leaf temperature; photosynthesis; water availability; leaf thermal damage; thermoregulation

Published in

2019, Volume: 10, number: 5, article number: 398