Photoperiodic regulation of the seasonal pattern of photosynthetic capacity and the implications for carbon cycling


Although temperature is an important driver of seasonal changes in photosynthetic physiology, photoperiod also regulates leaf activity. Climate change will extend growing seasons if temperature cues predominate, but photoperiod-controlled species will show limited responsiveness to warming. We show that photoperiod explains more seasonal variation in photosynthetic activity across 23 tree species than temperature. Although leaves remain green, photosynthetic capacity peaks just after summer solstice and declines with decreasing photoperiod, before air temperatures peak. In support of these findings, saplings grown at constant temperature but exposed to an extended photoperiod maintained high photosynthetic capacity, but photosynthetic activity declined in saplings experiencing a naturally shortening photoperiod; leaves remained equally green in both treatments. Incorporating a photoperiodic correction of photosynthetic physiology into a global-scale terrestrial carbon-cycle model significantly improves predictions of seasonal atmospheric CO2 cycling, demonstrating the benefit of such a function in coupled climate system models. Accounting for photoperiod-induced seasonality in photosynthetic parameters reduces modeled global gross primary production 2.5% (∼4 PgC y−1), resulting in a >3% (∼2 PgC y−1) decrease of net primary production. Such a correction is also needed in models estimating current carbon uptake based on remotely sensed greenness. Photoperiod-associated declines in photosynthetic capacity could limit autumn carbon gain in forests, even if warming delays leaf senescence.




Bauerle, William L., Ram Oren, Danielle A. Way, Song S. Qian, Paul Stoy, Peter E. Thornton, Joseph D. Bowden, Forrest M. Hoffman, and Robert F. Reynolds. “Photoperiodic Regulation of the Seasonal Pattern of Photosynthetic Capacity and the Implications for Carbon Cycling.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. 22 (May 29, 2012): 8612-8617.
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