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Smith Lab News

January 16, 2019:

The Spring 2019 semester begins Today is the first day of the Spring semester. This semester Nick will be teaching Physiological Plant Ecology, an upper-level course for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. The course will cover a mix of foundational research in the field as well as some more recent trends. If you are interested in learning more, please don't hesitate to contact Nick or check out the course GitHub repo where all the course material will be posted.

January 4, 2019:


Nick led a study to examine the drivers of leaf-level photosynthesis, specifically the maximum rate of Rubisco carboxylation, commonly termed Vcmax. This rate is important for determining how much carbon plants take up via photosynthesis. However, Vcmax is known to be quite plastic over space and time, making it difficult to predict at large spatial and temporal scales.

The authors further developed a theory for predicting optimal rates Vcmax, with optimization meaning maintenance of maximum carbon uptake at the lowest cost. The theory was driven by climate and light availability alone.

When tested against a global observational dataset of Vcmax, the theory did quite well, explaining >60% of the variation in the observations. The results suggest that light available and biophysical constraints due to climate determine large scale patterns of Vcmax. The results also suggested that soil fertility was not a major driver of Vcmax at these scales, an effect that contrasts with theory implemented in Earth System Models (ESMs).

The theory is a much simpler representation of acclimation than that is currently used in ESMs, thus providing a way to simplify these complex models, improving the reliability of their future predictions.

The study was published online in Ecology Letters.

Full citation:

Smith, NG, TF Keenan, IC Prentice, H Wang, IJ Wright, Ü Niinemets, et al. (2019). Global photosynthetic capacity is optimized to the environment. Ecology Letters. doi: 10.1111/ele.13210.

Comparison of Vcmax as predicted by optimization and observed in a global dataset. Data are colored by the Koppen climate class of the site where the data were taken.

January 1, 2019:

It was big year for the lab! Field sites were established, experiments were done, and papers were published. The lab added many new members and saw others move on to bigger and better things. Check out all the previous year's new in the 2018 Archive. On to a fun, productive, science-filled 2019!

Youngest lab member, Marlo Smith, stares down a Guadalupe Mountain sunrise.