Unified representation of the C3, C4, and CAM photosynthetic pathways with the Photo3 model

Samantha Hartzell, Mark S. Bartlett, Amilcare Michele M. Porporato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Recent interest in crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) photosynthesis has resulted in new, physiologically based CAM models. These models show promise, yet typically are not developed with a basis that is compatible with widely used models of C3 and C4 photosynthesis. Indeed, most efforts to assess the potential of CAM still rely on empirically based environmental productivity indices, which makes uniform comparisons between CAM and non-CAM species difficult. In order to represent C3, C4, and CAM photosynthesis in a consistent, physiologically based manner, we introduce the Photo3 model. Photo3 unites a common photosynthetic and hydraulic core with components depicting the circadian rhythm of CAM photosynthesis and the carbon-concentrating mechanism of C4 photosynthesis. This work allows consistent comparisons of the three photosynthetic types for the first time. It also allows the representation of intermediate C3-CAM behavior through the adjustment of a single model parameter. Model simulations of Opuntia ficus-indica (CAM), Sorghum bicolor (C4), and Triticum aestivum (C3) capture the diurnal behavior of each species as well as the cumulative effects of long-term water limitation. These results show the model's potential for evaluating the tradeoffs between C3, C4, and CAM photosynthesis, and for better understanding CAM productivity, ecology, and climate feedbacks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-187
Number of pages15
JournalEcological Modelling
StatePublished - Sep 24 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Ecology


  • C3 photosynthesis
  • C4 photosynthesis
  • Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM)
  • Plant water storage
  • Soil–plant–atmosphere continuum


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