Abstract

Temperature effects on photosynthesis were studied in seedlings of evergreen Mediterranean cork oak (Quercus suber L.). Responses to changes in temperature and the temperature optima of maximal carboxylation rate (Vcmax) and maximal light-driven electron flux (Jmax) were estimated from gas exchange measurements and a leaf-level photosynthesis model. The estimated temperature optima were approximately 34 and 33 °C for Vcmax and Jmax, respectively, which fall within the lower range of temperature optima previously observed in deciduous tree species. The thermostability of the photosynthetic apparatus was estimated according to the temperature at which basal chlorophyll a fluorescence begins to increase (Tc). The Tc was highly variable, increasing from 42 to 51 °C when ambient temperature rose from 10 to 40 °C, and increasing from 44 to 54 °C with decreasing soil water availability while net CO2 assimilation rate dropped to almost zero. When a heat shock was imposed, an additional small increase in Tc was observed in drought-stressed and control seedlings. Maximal Tc values following heat shock were about 56 °C, which, to our knowledge, are the highest values that have been observed in tree species. In conclusion, the intrinsic temperature responses of cork oak did not differ from those of other species (similar Tc under ambient temperature and water availability, and relatively low thermal optima for photosynthetic capacity in seedlings grown at cool temperatures). However, the large ability of cork oak to acclimate to drought and elevated temperature may be an important factor in the tolerance of this evergreen Mediterranean species to summer drought and high temperatures.