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Warming Reduces Net Carbon Gain And Productivity In Medicago Sativa L. And Festuca Arundinacea

Vinod Jacob, Haiyang Zhang, Amber C. Churchill, Jinyan Yang, Brendan Choat, Belinda E. Medlyn, Sally A. Power, David T. Tissue

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High temperature stress imposes constraints on the productivity of agricultural systems, such as pastures, and predicted increases in global temperatures are set to exacerbate these limitations. Here, we sought to understand the impact of warmer growth temperature on gas exchange and net primary productivity for two widely cultivated pasture species. We grew a C3 legume, Medicago sativa (lucerne), and a C3 grass, Festuca arundinacea Schreb. (tall fescue), in a climate-controlled facility exposed to two temperature treatments (ambient: 26 °C, aT; elevated: 30 °C, eT). Soil water was maintained at non-limiting conditions in both temperature treatments to control for the confounding effects of warming on soil moisture. We found that warming reduced photosynthetic capacity and increased leaf dark respiration (Rdark) in lucerne, while tall fescue showed little physiological change at the leaf level, but increased ecosystem respiration (Reco). Growth temperature had no significant impact on the thermal optimum of photosynthesis (Topt) or water use efficiency in either species. Both species exhibited significant reductions in productivity with warming; lucerne had greater reductions in shoot biomass, while tall fescue had greater reductions in root biomass. Our results highlight the potential for significant declines in pasture productivity associated with even modest increases in average temperature and highlights the need for suitable management strategies and implementation of more heat-resistant cultivars. Improvements in photosynthetic performance for greater heat tolerance in lucerne, and traits associated with biomass allocation and root performance at higher temperatures in tall fescue, should be the focus for improving high temperature resistance in these plant species.