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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The effect of experimental warming on leaf functional traits, leaf structure and leaf biochemistry in Arabidopsis thaliana

Biao Jin14, Li Wang34, Jing Wang4, Ke-Zhen Jiang4, Yang Wang4, Xiao-Xue Jiang4, Cheng-Yang Ni4, Yu-Long Wang5 and Nian-Jun Teng2*

Author Affiliations

1 College of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, Yangzhou University, Yangzhou 225009, PR China

2 College of Horticulture, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing 210095, PR China

3 Key Laboratory of Photosynthesis and Environmental Molecular Physiology, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, PR China

4 College of Horticulture and Plant Protection, Yangzhou University, Yangzhou 225009, PR China

5 Key Laboratory of Crop Genetics and Physiology of Jiangsu Province, Yangzhou University, Yangzhou 225009, PR China

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BMC Plant Biology 2011, 11:35  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-11-35

Published: 18 February 2011



The leaf is an important plant organ, and how it will respond to future global warming is a question that remains unanswered. The effects of experimental warming on leaf photosynthesis and respiration acclimation has been well studied so far, but relatively little information exists on the structural and biochemical responses to warming. However, such information is very important to better understand the plant responses to global warming. Therefore, we grew Arabidopsis thaliana at the three day/night temperatures of 23/18°C (ambient temperature), 25.5/20.5°C (elevated by 2.5°C) and 28/23°C (elevated by 5°C) to simulate the middle and the upper projected warming expected within the 21st century for this purpose.


The 28/23°C treatment significantly reduced the life span, total biomass and total weight of seeds compared with the other two temperatures. Among the three temperature regimes, the concentrations of starch, chlorophyll, and proline were the lowest at 28/23°C, whereas the total weight of seeds, concentrations of chlorophyll and proline, stomatal density (SD), stomatal conductance (gs), net CO2 assimilation rate (A) and transpiration rate (E) were the highest at 25.5/20.5°C. Furthermore, the number of chloroplasts per cell and mitochondrial size were highest at 25.5/20.5°C and lowest at 28/23°C.


The conditions whereby the temperature was increased by 2.5°C were advantageous for Arabidopsis. However, a rise of 5°C produced negative effects, suggesting that lower levels of warming may benefit plants, especially those which belong to the same functional group as Arabidopsis, whereas higher levels of warming may produce negative affects. In addition, the increase in A under moderately warm conditions may be attributed to the increase in SD, chlorophyll content, and number of chloroplasts. Furthermore, starch accumulation in chloroplasts may be the main factor influencing chloroplast ultrastructure, and elevated temperature regulates plant respiration by probably affecting mitochondrial size. Finally, high SOD and CAT activities may enable plants grown at elevated temperatures to exhibit relatively high tolerance to temperature stress, thus alleviating the harmful effects of superoxide anion radicals and hydrogen peroxide.