Atkin Group - Plant respiration in a changing world

Atkin Group

My group studies plant metabolic responses to environmental gradients, including how leaf respiration varies within and among biomes across the globe.  Working with climate modeling groups in the UK and USA, we are using the results of our field surveys to improve representation of leaf respiration in terrestrial biosphere models.  We are also using molecular, biochemical and physiological studies to understand the factors responsible for temperature-mediated changes in respiratory metabolism, both in crop (wheat and rice) and natural ecosystem species. Understanding the processes that control heat tolerance of leaf carbon metabolism is also a focus of our current research.    

ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology

The Atkin Group plays a key role in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology (PEB), a cutting edge research centre focused on better understanding the way in which plants interconvert forms of chemical energy in response to environmental change. PEB’s vision is to enhance plant energy efficiency by simultaneously optimising energy capture, conversion and use in changing environments to improve the sustainable productivity of plants. The Atkin, Borevitz and Pogson labs also collaborate in an International Wheat Yield Partnership Grant to improving yield in wheat by optimising energy use efficiency.

Visit PEB website here:

PEB has over 110 internationally competitive staff and students across four Australian Universities (ANU, UWA, UoA & LaTrobe) work together to define the complex system that determines overall energy efficiency in plants by discovering the key signals, 'gatekeeper' cells, and (epi)genetic controls that regulate this energy system and to manipulate these in combination in order to tune energy efficiency across the whole plant to enhance yields.

Accomplishments thus far include: in the last 5 years PEB has secured over $40 million in research funding (2014-2015) and published over 250 articles including key breakthroughs published in Nature, Cell, Science, PNAS & Plant Cell = more than 20% of all Australian publications in top-ranked plant science journals were authored or co-authored by PEB staff.

PEB is proud to sponsor ANU Jan Anderson HDR Supplementary Scholarships and also the Warwick Hillier Honours Scholarships. Further to these prestigious scholarships, PEB also offers Honours scholarships ($7K) and top-up scholarships for PhD students ($7K), in addition to well funded research, conference travel and graduate training programs.

Current grants

  • International Wheat Yield Partnership looking at Improving wheat yield by optimising efficiency of respiratory energy use, funding provided by the Grains Research and Development Corporation. 2016-2019
  • ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology (CE140100008). 2014-2020.
  • USA DoE Grant. 2014-2017. Global land model development: time to shift from a plant functional type to a plant functional trait approach. [CIs: Peter Reich and Arindam Banerjee (Uni of Minnesota, USA, Peter Thornton (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA)]


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Selected publications

  • Bahar, N.H.A., Ishida, F.Y., Weerasinghe, L.K., Guerrieri, R., O'Sullivan, O.S., et al. & and Atkin, O.K.  (2017). Leaf-level photosynthetic capacity in lowland Amazonian and high-elevation, Andean tropical moist forests of Peru.  New Phytologist.  Early online doi: 10.1111/nph.14079
  • O’Sullivan, O.S., Heskel, M.A., Reich, P.B., Tjoelker, M.G., et al. & Atkin, O.K. (2017). Thermal limits of leaf metabolism across biomes.  Global Change Biology 23: 209–223
  • Heskel, M.A., O’Sullivan, O.S., Reich, P.B., Tjoelker, M.G., et al. & Atkin, O.K. (2016).  Convergence in the temperature response of leaf respiration across biomes and plant functional types. PNAS USA.  113(14): 3832-3837.
  • Harper, A.B., Cox, P.M., Friedlingstein, P., Wiltshire, A., Jones, C.D., Sitch, S.A., Mercado, L.M., Groenendijk, M., Robertson, E., Kattge, J., Bönisch, G., Atkin, O.K., et al. (2016). Improved representation of plant functional types and physiology in the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES v4.2) using plant trait information. Geoscientific Model Development 9: 2415-2440. 
  • Heskel, M.A., Atkin, O.K., O’Sullivan, O.S., Reich, P., Tjoelker, M.G., et al. (2016) Reply to Adams et al.: Empirical versus process-based approaches to modelling temperature responses of leaf respiration. PNAS, USA.  113: E5996-E5997
  • Atkin, O.K., Bloomfield, K.J., Reich, P.B., Tjoelker, M.G., et al. (2015).  Global variability in leaf respiration among plant functional types in relation to climate and leaf traits.  New Phytologist 206: 614–636
  • Long, B.M., Bahar, N.H.A. and Atkin, O.K. (2015).  Contributions of photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic cell types to leaf respiration in Vicia faba L. and their responses to growth temperature.  Plant Cell and Environment 38: 2263–2276
  • Atkin O.K., Meir P. and Turnbull M.H. (2014) Improving representation of leaf respiration in large-scale predictive climate–vegetation models. New Phytologist 202: 743-748.
  • Gauthier, P.P.G., Crous, K.Y., Ayub, G., Duan, H., Weerasinghe, K.W.L. K. Ellsworth, D.S., Tissue, D.T., Evans J.R., and Atkin O.K. (2014).  Drought increases heat tolerance of leaf respiration in Eucalyptus globulus saplings grown under ambient and elevated atmospheric [CO2] and temperature. Journal of Experimental Botany 65: 6471–6485
  • Weerasinghe, L.K., Creek, D., Crous, K.Y., Xiang, S., Liddell, M.J., Turnbull, M.H. and Atkin, O.K. (2014). Canopy position affects the relationships between leaf respiration and associated traits in a tropical rainforest in Far North Queensland.  Tree Physiology 34: 564-584
  • Heskel, M.A., Greaves, H., Turnbull, M.T., O’Sullivan, O.S., Shaver, G., Griffin, K.L. and Atkin, O.K. (2014). Thermal acclimation of shoot respiration in an Arctic woody plant species subjected to 22 years of warming and altered nutrient supply.  Global Change Biology 20: 2618–2630
  • Atkin, O.K., Turnbull, M.H., Zaragoza-Castells, J, Fyllas, N., Lloyd, J., Meir, P. and Kevin L. Griffin (2013).  Light inhibition of leaf respiration as soil fertility declines along a post-glacial chronosequence in New Zealand: an analysis using the Kok method.  Plant and Soil 367: 163–182. 
  • Huntingford, C., Zelazowski, P., Galbraith, D., Mercado, L.M., Sitch, S., Fisher, R., Lomas, M., Walker, A., Jones, C.D., Booth, B.B.B., Malhi, Y., Hemming, D., Kay, G., Good, P., Lewis, S., Phillips, O.L., Atkin, O.K., et al. (2013). Simulated resilience of tropical rainforest to CO2–induced climate change.  Nature Geoscience 6: 268–273
  • O’Sullivan, O.S., Weerasinghe, K.W.L.K., Evans, J.R., Egerton, J.G., Tjoelker, M.G. and Atkin, O.K. (2013).  High-resolution temperature responses of leaf respiration in snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora) reveal high-temperature limits to respiratory function. Plant Cell and Environment 36: 1268-1284
  • Xiang, S., Reich, P.B., Sun, S. and Atkin, O.K. (2013) Contrasting leaf trait scaling relationships in tropical and temperate wet forest species.  Functional Ecology 27: 520-532.
  • Ayub, G., Smith, R., Tissue, D.T. and Atkin, O.K.  (2011) Impacts of drought on leaf respiration in darkness and in the light in Eucalyptus saligna exposed to industrial-age atmospheric CO2 and growth temperature.  New Phytologist 190: 1003–1018.
  • Crous, K.Y., Zaragoza-Castells, J., Löw, M., Ellsworth, D., Tissue, D.T., Tjoelker, M.G., Barton, C.V.M., Gimeno, T.E., and Atkin, O.K. (2011) Seasonal acclimation of leaf respiration in Eucalyptus saligna trees: impacts of elevated atmospheric CO2 and summer drought.  Global Change Biology 17: 1560–1576
  • Nicotra, A., Atkin, O.K., Bonser, S.P.,Davidson, A., Finnegan, E.J., Mathesius, U., Poot, P., Purugganan, M.D., Richards, C.L., Valladares, F., van Kleunen, M. (2010)  Plant phenotypic plasticity in a changing climate.  Trends in Plant Science 15: 684-892
  • Gorsuch, P.A., Sargent A., Penfield, S., Quick, W.P. and Atkin, O.K. (2010) Systemic low temperature signaling in Arabidopsis.  Plant and Cell Physiology 51: 1488-1498
  • Gorsuch, P.A., Pandey, S., and Atkin, O.K. (2010). Thermal de-acclimation: how permanent is the leaf phenotype when cold-acclimated plants experience warming? Plant, Cell and Environment 33: 1124–1137
  • Atkin O.K. and Macherel, D. (2009) The crucial role of plant mitochondria in orchestrating drought tolerance.  Annals of Botany 103: 581-597
  • Atkin, O.K., Atkinson, L.J., Fisher, R., Campbell, C.D., Zaragoza-Castells, J., Woodward, F.I., Pitchford, J., and Hurry, V. (2008). Using temperature-dependent changes in leaf scaling relationships to quantitatively account for thermal acclimation of respiration in a coupled global climate-vegetation model.  Global Change Biology 14: 2709-2726
  • Armstrong, A.F., Badger, M.R., Day, D.A., Barthet, M., Smith, P., Whelan, J., Millar, A.H. and Atkin, O.K. (2008) Dynamic changes in the mitochondrial electron transport chain underpinning thermal acclimation of leaf respiration.  Plant, Cell and Environment 31: 1156-1169
  • Armstrong, A.F., Wardlaw, K.D. and Atkin, O.K. (2007). Assessing the relationship between cold acclimation of leaf respiration and photosystem II redox poise in Arabidopsis thaliana.  Plant, Cell and Environment 30: 1513-1522
  • Campbell, C.D., Atkinson, L.J., Zaragoza-Castells, J., Lundmark, M., Atkin, O. and Hurry, V. (2007).  Acclimation of photosynthesis and respiration is asynchronous in response to changes in temperature regardless of plant functional group.  New Phytologist 176: 375-389.
  • Atkin, O.K., Scheurwater, I. and Pons, T.L. (2007). Respiration as a percentage of daily photosynthesis in whole plants is homeostatic at moderate, but not high, growth temperatures New Phytologist 174: 367-380.
  • Armstrong, A.F., Logan, D., Tobin, A.K., O’Toole, P. and Atkin, O.K. (2006).  Heterogeneity of plant mitochondrial responses underpinning respiratory acclimation to the cold in Arabidopsis thaliana leaves.  Plant, Cell and Environment 29: 940-949.
  • Atkin, O.K. and Tjoelker, M.G. (2003).  Thermal acclimation and the dynamic response of plant respiration to temperature.  Trends in Plant Science 8: 343-351


All publications


Rainforests may be more resilient than feared

Story | Monday 11 March 2013

2012 ARC grant success

Story | Friday 23 November 2012

PS Seminar Series: One, two, three: Portable sample size in biological research

Event | Fri 24 November 2023
In this talk, I will provide a unified review of approaches and explain their close interrelationships, emphasizing that all approaches rely on the standard error of the quantity of interest, most often a pairwise difference of two means.
PS Exit Seminar Recording - Andres Garcia

PS PhD Exit Seminar - Wheat Growth in a Changing World: Genetic and Environmental Drivers of Variation in Leaf Respiration

Event | Fri 7 October 2022
Global crop yields per hectare have plateaued in recent years while consumption and population continue to grow.

PS Seminar Series- PhD Exit Seminar- Tales of mitochondria: How have the roles of mitochondria in C4 plants affected respiratory metabolism?

Event | Fri 20 May 2022
C4 photosynthesis involves a number of biochemical and anatomical traits that significantly improve plant productivity under conditions that reduce the efficiency of C3 photosynthesis.
Recorded PS Webinar: Bradley Posch PhD Exit Seminar

PS Webinar Series - PhD Exit Seminar: In the heat of the night: Exploring the influence of night warming on wheat energy metabolism

Event | Fri 24 September 2021
With the onset of climate change we have seen ongoing increases in mean global temperature, including a rise in night temperatures that has outpaced the rate of daytime warming.

PS Seminar Series: Accuracy of genomic selection within-families

Event | Wed 6 November 2019
Explore how Genomic Selection (GS) is used to select superior seedlings, resulting in rapid genetic gains.

PS Seminar Series: Genetic approaches to understand plant photosynthesis

Event | Fri 11 October 2019
The quantitative genetics of photosynthesis efficiency in plants is not much investigated, even though breeding for photosynthesis would be interesting to maintain or improve annual increases in crop yields.

PS Seminar Series- PhD Exit Seminar : Thermal acclimation of respiration in rice

Event | Fri 16 August 2019

Abstract - The world population has grown from 3 billion in 1961 to 7.6 billion in 2018, and is expected to reach nearly