Leaf gas-exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence measurements were used as indexes for evaluating heat tolerance among five taxa of birch: paper (Betula papyrifera Marsh.), European (B. pendula Roth.), Japanese (B. platyphylla var. japonica Hara. cv. Whitespire), Himalayan (B. jacquemontii Spach.), and river (B. nigra L. cv. Heritage). Gas-exchange measurements were conducted on individual leaves at temperatures ranging from 25 to 40C. River birch maintained the highest net photosynthetic rates (Pn) at high temperatures, while Pn of paper birch was reduced the most. Further study of river and paper birch indicated that the reduced Pn at high temperatures and the differential sensitivity between taxa resulted from several factors. Inhibition of Pn at higher temperatures was due largely to nonstomatal limitations for both taxa. Increases in respiration rates, decreases in maximal photochemical efficiency of photosystem (PS) II (FV/FM), and possible reductions in light energy directed to PS II (F0 quenching) were apparent for both taxa. The capacity of river birch to maintain greater Pn at higher temperatures seemed to result from a lower Q10 for dark respiration and possibly greater thermotolerance of the Calvin cycle as indicated by a lack of nonphotochemical fluorescence quenching with increasing temperatures. Thermal injury, as indicated by a rapid increase in minimal, dark-acclimated (F0) fluorescence, was not evident for either paper or river birch until temperatures reached ≈49C and was similar for both taxa.
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