Ideas and perspectives: Heat stress: more than hot air
- 1Centre of Excellence PLECO (Plant and Vegetation Ecology), Department of Biology, Universiteit Antwerpen (Campus Drie Eiken), Universiteitsplein 1, 2610 Wilrijk, Belgium
- 2Terrestrial Ecology Unit, Department of Biology, Universiteit Gent, K. L. Ledeganckstraat 35, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
- *These authors contributed equally to this work.
Abstract. Climate models project an important increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves. In gauging the impact on plant responses, much of the focus has been on air temperatures, while a critical analysis of leaf temperatures during heat extremes has not been conducted. Nevertheless, direct physiological consequences from heat depend primarily on leaf rather than on air temperatures. We discuss how the interplay between various environmental variables and the plants' stomatal response affects leaf temperatures and the potential for heat stress by making use of both an energy balance model and field data. The results demonstrate that this interplay between plants and environment can cause leaf temperature to vary substantially at the same air temperature. In general, leaves tended to heat up when radiation was high and when stomates were closed, as expected. But perhaps counterintuitively, high air humidity also raised leaf temperatures, while humid conditions are typically regarded as benign with respect to plant survival since they limit water loss. High wind speeds brought the leaf temperature closer to the air temperature, which can imply either cooling or warming (i.e. abating or reinforcing heat stress) depending on other prevailing conditions. The results thus indicate that heat waves characterized by similar extreme air temperatures may pose little danger under some atmospheric conditions but could be lethal in other cases. The trends illustrated here should give ecologists and agronomists a more informed indication about which circumstances are most conducive to the occurrence of heat stress.