Plant respiration: controlled by photosynthesis or biomass? Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract Two simplifying hypotheses have been proposed for whole-plant respiration. One links respiration to photosynthesis; the other to biomass. Using a first-principles carbon balance model with a prescribed live woody biomass turnover, we show that if turnover is fast, the accumulation of respiring biomass is low and respiration depends primarily on photosynthesis; while if turnover is slow, the accumulation of respiring biomass is high and respiration depends primarily on biomass. But the first scenario is inconsistent with evidence for substantial carryover of fixed carbon between years, while the second implies far too great an increase in respiration during stand development – leading to depleted carbohydrate reserves and an unrealistically high mortality risk. These two mutually incompatible hypotheses are thus both incorrect. Respiration is not linearly related either to photosynthesis or to biomass, but rather it is more strongly controlled by recent photosynthates (and reserve availability) than by total biomass.

publication date

  • July 18, 2019