Leaf thermal tolerance and sensitivity of temperate tree species are correlated with leaf physiological and functional drought resistance traits

Climate change is causing more frequent and severe climatic events, such as extreme heat and co-occurring drought, potentially accelerating tree mortality. Which tree species will cope better with those extreme events is still being researched. This study focuses on heat as a physiological stress factor and interspecific variation of thermal tolerance and sensitivity traits in 15 temperate coniferous and broad-leaved tree species. We investigate (1) whether thermal tolerance and sensitivity traits correlate with a drought-related physiological trait, particularly the leaf turgor loss point (πtlp, wilting point), and (2) how thermal tolerance and sensitivity traits co-vary within different tree-functional types classified by morphological and physiological traits of the leaf, i.e., leaf mass per area (LMA) and percentage loss of area (PLA). The study was carried out in the Traunstein Forest Dynamics Plot of the ForestGEO network in Germany. The temperature response of the maximum quantum yield of photosystem II (Fv/Fm) on leaf discs was determined, from which various physiological leaf traits were estimated, one of which is the breaking point temperature (T5), the temperature at which Fv/Fm declines by 5%. Additionally, the temperature of 50% (T50) and 95% (T95) decline in Fv/Fm was evaluated. The decline width between T50 and T5 (DWT50−T5) was taken as an indicator of the species’ thermal sensitivity. The breaking point temperature ranged from 35.4 ± 3.0 to 47.9 ± 3.9 °C among the investigated tree species and T50 ranged between 46.1 ± 0.4 and 53.6 ± 0.7 °C. A large interspecific variation of thermal tolerance and sensitivity was found. European ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) was the most heat-sensitive species, while Wild cherry (Prunus avium L.) was the least heat-sensitive species. Species with a more negative πtlp tended to have a higher breaking point temperature than species with a less negative πtlp. A lower thermal sensitivity characterized species with a higher LMA, and high PLA was found in species with low thermal sensitivity. Accordingly, species with thicker and tougher leaves have lower thermal sensitivity which coincides with a lower wilting point. We conclude that species that develop drought-adapted foliage can cope better with heat stress. Further, they might be able to maintain transpirational cooling during combined heat and drought stress, which could lessen their mortality risk during climatic extremes.

Ines Katharina Münchinger, Peter Hajek, Berivan Akdogan, Astor Toraño Caicoya & Norbert Kunert
Journal of Forestry Research