Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Applied Ecology (MS)

College, School or Department Name

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Molly Cavaleri


Tropical trees have been shown to be more susceptible to warming compared to temperate species, and have shown growth and photosynthetic declines at elevated temperatures as little as 3oC above ambient. However, regional and global vegetation models lack the data needed to accurately represent physiological response to increased temperatures in tropical forests. We compared the instantaneous photosynthetic responses to elevated temperatures of four mature tropical rainforest tree species in Puerto Rico and the temperate broadleaf species sugar maple (Acer saccharum) in Michigan. Contrary to expectations, leaves in the upper canopy of both temperate and tropical forests had temperature optima that are already exceeded by mean daily leaf temperatures. This indicates that tropical and temperate forests are already seeing photosynthesis decline at mid-day temperature. This decline may worsen as air temperatures rise with climate change if trees are unable to acclimate, increasing the likelihood that forests may shift from carbon sinks to sources.

A secondary study was conducted on experimentally warmed sugar maple seedlings to determine if photosynthesis had been able to acclimate to +5oC air temperature over four years. Species abundance models had predicted a decline of sugar maple within the Upper Peninsula of Michigan over the next 100 years, due to elevated temperature and altered precipitation. Instantaneous photosynthetic temperature response curves on both control and heated seedlings showed that the differences between treatments were not statistically significant, though there was a 16% increase in temperature optima and a 3% increase in maximum rates of photosynthesis in warmed plots. Though evidence of acclimation was not significant, the seedlings did not fare poorly as the models suggest.