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Title: Photosynthetic responses to altitude: an explanation based on optimality principles

Ecophysiologists have long been fascinated by the photosynthetic behaviour of alpine plants, which often have to withstand extreme environmental pressures (Gale, 1972; Friend&Woodward, 1990; Korner, 2003, 2007; Shi et al., 2006). About 8%of the world’s land surface is above 1500 maltitude (Korner, 2007). High altitudes can be climatically unusual, often with (for example) low temperatures, strong winds, and now high rates of warming (Korner, 2003; Pepin &Lundquist, 2008; Rangwala&Miller, 2012). Moreover, the low atmospheric pressure provides a set of environmental conditions unique on Earth (Table 1). There has been extensive speculation about altitudinal effects on photosynthesis and, in particular, how to account for the puzzling – but consistently observed – tendencies towards higher carbon dioxide (CO 2) drawdown (low ratio of leafinternal to ambient CO 2 partial pressures (c i:c a; hereafter, v), resulting in low carbon isotope discrimination) and higher carboxylation capacity (V cmax) with increasing altitude (Gale, 1972; Korner & Diemer, 1987; Friend et al., 1989; Terashima et al., 1995; Bresson et al., 2009; Zhu et al., 2010). At first glance, it might be expected that CO 2 assimilation rates would be reduced at high altitudes due to the low partial pressure of CO 2 (Friend & Woodward,more » 1990). But, actual measured photosynthetic rates are usually as high as, or even higher than, those at low altitudes (Machler & Nosberger, 1977; Korner & Diemer, 1987; Cordell et al., 1999; Shi et al., 2006).« less
 [1] ;  [2] ;  [3] ;  [4] ;  [5] ;  [6]
  1. Northwest A&F Univ., Yangling (China); Macquarie Univ., NSW (Australia)
  2. Northwest A&F Univ., Yangling (China); Macquarie Univ., NSW (Australia); Imperial College, London (United Kingdom)
  3. Imperial College, London (United Kingdom); US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA)., Ithaca, NY (United States)
  4. Macquarie Univ., NSW (Australia); Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. (LBNL), Berkeley, CA (United States)
  5. Macquarie Univ., NSW (Australia)
  6. Northwest A&F Univ., Yangling (China); Univ. of Quebec (Canada)
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
New Phytologist
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 213; Journal Issue: 3; Journal ID: ISSN 0028-646X
Research Org:
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. (LBNL), Berkeley, CA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23)
Country of Publication:
United States
OSTI Identifier:
Alternate Identifier(s):
OSTI ID: 1400592