The effects of spring versus summer heat events on two arid zone plant species under field conditions

Publication Name

Functional Plant Biology


Heatwaves are increasingly occurring out-of-season, which may affect plants not primed for the event. Further, heat stress often coincides with water and/or nutrient stress, impairing short-term physiological function and potentially causing downstream effects on reproductive fitness. We investigated the response of water-stressed arid-zone Solanum oligacanthum and Solanum orbiculatum to spring vs summer heat stress under differing nutrient conditions. Heat stress events were imposed in open-topped chambers under in situ desert conditions. To assess short-term impacts, we measured leaf photosystem responses (Fv/Fm) and membrane stability; long-term effects were compared via biomass allocation, visible damage, flowering and fruiting. Plants generally fared more poorly following summer than spring heat stress, with the exception of Fv/Fm. Summer heat stress caused greater membrane damage, reduced growth and survival compared with spring. Nutrient availability had a strong influence on downstream effects of heat stress, including species-specific outcomes for reproductive fitness. Overall, high temperatures during spring posed a lower threat to fitness than in severe arid summer conditions of high temperature and low water availability, which were more detrimental to plants in both the short and longer term. Our study highlights the importance of considering ecologically relevant, multiple-stressor events to understand different species responses to extreme heat.

Open Access Status

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Funding Sponsor

University of Technology Sydney



Link to publisher version (DOI)