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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Convergence in the temperature response of leaf respiration across biomes and plant functional types


Mary Heskel

Odhran O'Sullivan

Peter Reich

Mark Tjoelker

Lasantha Weerasinghe

Aurore Penillard

John Egerton

Danielle Creek

Keith Bloomfield

Jen Xiang

Felipe Sinca

Zsofia Stangl

Alberto de la Torre

Kevin Griffin

Chris Huntingford

Vaughan Hurry

Patrick Meir

Matthew Turnbull

Owen Atkin

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Secondary Title:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Plant respiration constitutes a massive carbon flux to the atmosphere, and a major control on the evolution of the global carbon cycle. It therefore has the potential to modulate levels of climate change due to the human burning of fossil fuels. Neither current physiological nor terrestrial biosphere models adequately describe its short-term tem- perature response, and even minor differences in the shape of the response curve can significantly impact estimates of ecosystem carbon release and/or storage. Given this, it is critical to establish whether there are predictable patterns in the shape of the respiration–temper- ature response curve, and thus in the intrinsic temperature sensitivity of respiration across the globe. Analyzing measurements in a compre- hensive database for 231 species spanning 7 biomes, we demonstrate that temperature-dependent increases in leaf respiration do not follow a commonly used exponential function. Instead, we find a decelerating function as leaves warm, reflecting a declining sensitivity to higher temperatures that is remarkably uniform across all biomes and plant functional types. Such convergence in the temperature sensitivity of leaf respiration suggests that there are universally applicable controls on the temperature response of plant energy metabolism, such that a single new function can predict the temperature dependence of leaf respiration for global vegetation. This simple function enables straight- forward description of plant respiration in the land-surface compo- nents of coupled earth system models. Our cross-biome analyses shows significant implications for such fluxes in cold climates, gener- ally projecting lower values compared with previous estimates.