Differences in photosynthesis and isoprene emission in post oak (Quercus stellata) and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) trees along an urban-to-rural gradient in Texas

Friday, 19 December 2014
Eleanor Lahr1, Caitlin Crossett2, Garrett Haas1 and Gunnar W Schade3, (1)Texas A & M University, College Station, TX, United States, (2)Hobart and William Smith College, Geneva, NY, United States, (3)Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, United States
Many plants produce isoprene, a volatile organic compound that can mitigate damage to photosynthetic systems during short- or long-term increases in leaf temperature. After its production within leaves, isoprene is emitted to the atmosphere and influences regional atmospheric chemistry. Here, we use an urban-to-rural gradient to explore future effects of climate change on tree eco-physiology and feedbacks to atmospheric chemistry. Urban areas mimic many of the conditions expected to occur in the future; in particular, cities have warmer temperatures due to the urban heat island (UHI) effect, and less water availability relative to rural areas. Along a 90 km urban-to-rural gradient, we measured photosynthesis and isoprene emission from trees at three sites in eastern Texas: Houston (urban), The Woodlands (suburban) and Sam Houston National Forest (rural). Isoprene emission from post oak (Quercus stellata) was higher in Houston than the other sites, and when leaf temperatures were increased above ambient conditions, trees produced more isoprene. Leaves produced more isoprene at high leaf temperatures in early summer than in late summer, suggesting gradual acclimation of photosynthetic processes over the course of the summer. We also found that sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) emitted more isoprene than post oak, but when leaf temperatures were increased, isoprene emission was exhausted more quickly in sweetgum relative to post oak. At the same time, post oak maintained higher levels of photosynthesis seasonally and during short-term temperature increases. Both post oak and sweetgum are significant isoprene emitters and represent approximately two and four percent crown cover in the United States, respectively. Our results suggest that in a warming climate, we can expect trees to produce more isoprene seasonally and in response to short-term temperature extremes, and that species-specific differences in photosynthesis and isoprene emission may play an important role in forest dynamics, particularly in long-term forest growth and carbon storage. Further exploration of the interactive effect of increased CO2, temperature, and drought on tree physiology will improve our understanding of forest dynamics and forest-climate feedbacks.