In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Physiological Ecology of Photosynthesis

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Differences Due to Photosynthetic Pathway (C3 vs. C4)
  • Potential Mitigation under Elevated CO2

Ecology Physiological Ecology of Photosynthesis
Greg A. Barron-Gafford
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0093


The study of the physiological ecology of photosynthesis is nearly a century-old field that has its roots in understanding the basic underlying mechanisms of photosynthesis. As a field, plant physiology focuses on plant function and growth, whereas the physiological ecology of photosynthesis strives to understand the effects and implications of abiotic and biotic drivers and stressors to the process of photosynthesis. The 1950s–1980s were an important period in the ecophysiology of photosynthesis as great advances were made in our understanding of the response to photosynthesis to environmental changes in light, temperature, and atmospheric CO2 concentration ([CO2]), as evidenced by the many review texts available during those later years. In the following decades, a series of equations describing the biomechanics of photosynthesis were developed and utilized by emerging field instrumentation (see Physiological Response to Temperature). Given the mounting evidence for recent climatic change and the projections of gradual and extreme changes in our temperature and precipitation regimes, as summarized in Photosynthetic Responses to Temperature, interest in broadening our understanding of the physiological ecology of photosynthesis is only likely to grow.

General Overviews

Hundreds of texts have been published covering the field of plant physiology. Some of these encompass whole-plant function or response to environmental or biotic stress and are often used in plant physiology courses, such as Salisbury and Ross 1991 and Taiz and Zeiger 2010, which provide excellent coverage of nearly all aspects of plant function. Additionally, many resourceful books focus on the physiological ecology of photosynthesis, specifically, Bose 1924, which serves as a significant historical work, and Schulze and Caldwell 1994, which builds on that classic by also incorporating a consideration of projected climate change. More recently, von Caemmerer 2000 describes the means by which the biochemical processes of photosynthesis can be most appropriately modeled. Concentrating further on the implications of singular, or sometimes paired, abiotic stressors on the physiological responses of photosynthesis are a suite of review books and articles. Again, many resources are available, but key among them are books or book chapters of Ehleringer, et al. 2005, Rama Das 2004, and Sharkey, et al. 2010, centering on the consequences of increasing CO2 and light, and the means by which plants deal with light stress.

  • Bose, J. C. 1924. The physiology of photosynthesis. New York: Longmans, Green.

    Classic text describing very early ecophysiological research on the implications of abiotic stressors on photosynthesis. The text provides a rich, historical context, illustrating the progress that has been made in the field over the last near-century.

  • Ehleringer, J. R., T. E. Cerling, and M. D. Dearing. 2005. A history of atmospheric CO2 and its effects on plants, animals, and ecosystems. Ecological Studies 177. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/b138533

    Like many of the Ecological Studies series, this book provides a thorough discussion of the history of atmospheric CO2 research and offers the state of the science looking forward. The text would serve as a nice introduction to a graduate research student.

  • Rama Das, V. S. 2004. Photosynthesis: Regulation under varying light regimes. Enfield, NH: Science Publishers.

    Relatively short, concise text covering everything from the basics of light interception to photoprotection and photoinhibition when absorbed excitation energy exceeds dissipation by the photochemistry of photosynthesis. Provides a thorough explanation of the structural basis for the mechanisms by which light drives and stresses the physiology of photosynthesis.

  • Salisbury, F., and C. Ross. 1991. Plant physiology. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    One of the most popular textbooks for courses on the subject of plant physiology. This book can serve as a foundational resource for nearly anyone interested in plant function, as the text covers all subjects, from germination to growth to flowering.

  • Schulze, E. D., and M. M. Caldwell. 1994. Ecophysiology of photosynthesis. New York: Springer-Verlag.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-79354-7

    Part of the Ecological Studies series, this classic text covers nearly every subject in plant ecophysiology, both in terms of the historical theory and in light of projected climate change. This book could serve as a primer for anyone interested in leaf or plant ecophysiology.

  • Sharkey, T., T. Vogelmann, J. Ehleringer, and D. Sandqist. 2010. Photosynthesis: Physiological and ecological considerations. In Plant physiology. 5th ed. Edited by Lincoln Taiz and Eduardo Zeiger, 197–220. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

    Thorough description of leaf light absorption, in terms of efficiencies of absorption, means by which light energy is converted, mechanisms by which photosynthetic function is protected by dissipation of excess light energy.

  • Taiz, L., and E. Zeiger. 2010. Plant physiology. 5th ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

    One of the most well-written and thorough books on plant physiology, this is also one of the most popular texts for courses on the subject. This book can serve as a boundless resource for budding and established ecophysiologists given the clarity of the writing and the extensive references provided within.

  • von Caemmerer, S. 2000. Biochemical models of leaf photosynthesis. Collingwood, Australia: CSIRO.

    Second in the series Techniques in Plant Sciences, this volume provides a readily accessible description of the widely used biochemical model components of photosynthesis. This book could serve as a valuable resource for those looking to understand the underlying theory behind photosynthetic function or for those beginning a path in model development.

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