Responses of tree species to heat waves and extreme heat events

Plant Cell Environ. 2015 Sep;38(9):1699-712. doi: 10.1111/pce.12417. Epub 2014 Sep 1.


The number and intensity of heat waves has increased, and this trend is likely to continue throughout the 21st century. Often, heat waves are accompanied by drought conditions. It is projected that the global land area experiencing heat waves will double by 2020, and quadruple by 2040. Extreme heat events can impact a wide variety of tree functions. At the leaf level, photosynthesis is reduced, photooxidative stress increases, leaves abscise and the growth rate of remaining leaves decreases. In some species, stomatal conductance increases at high temperatures, which may be a mechanism for leaf cooling. At the whole plant level, heat stress can decrease growth and shift biomass allocation. When drought stress accompanies heat waves, the negative effects of heat stress are exacerbated and can lead to tree mortality. However, some species exhibit remarkable tolerance to thermal stress. Responses include changes that minimize stress on photosynthesis and reductions in dark respiration. Although there have been few studies to date, there is evidence of within-species genetic variation in thermal tolerance, which could be important to exploit in production forestry systems. Understanding the mechanisms of differing tree responses to extreme temperature events may be critically important for understanding how tree species will be affected by climate change.

Keywords: drought; genotype; growth; heat stress; photosynthesis; respiration; stomatal conductance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomass
  • Droughts
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Photosynthesis
  • Plant Leaves / physiology
  • Plant Transpiration / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Trees / genetics
  • Trees / growth & development
  • Trees / physiology*