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Science

Photosynthesis and respiration

Factors affecting photosynthesis

Three factors can limit the speed of photosynthesis: light intensity, carbon dioxide concentration and temperature.

  • rate of photosynthesis plotted against light intensity. the rate begins to slow as the light intensity continues to increase

    Light intensity

    Without enough light, a plant cannot photosynthesise very quickly, even if there is plenty of water and carbon dioxide. Increasing the light intensity will boost the speed of photosynthesis.

  • rate of photosynthesis plotted against carbon dioxide concentration. the rate begins to slow as the carbon dioxide concentration continues to increase

    Carbon dioxide concentration

    Sometimes photosynthesis is limited by the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. Even if there is plenty of light, a plant cannot photosynthesise if there is insufficient carbon dioxide.

  • rate of photosynthesis plotted against temperature. the rate begins to slow as the temperature continues to increase

    Temperature

    If it gets too cold, the rate of photosynthesis will decrease. Plants cannot photosynthesise if it gets too hot.

If you plot the rate of photosynthesis against the levels of these three limiting factors, you get graphs like the ones above.

In practice, any one of these factors could limit the rate of photosynthesis.

Maximising growth

Farmers can use their knowledge of these limiting factors to increase crop growth in greenhouses. They may use artificial light so that photosynthesis can continue beyond daylight hours, or in a higher-than-normal light intensity. The use of paraffin lamps inside a greenhouse increases the rate of photosynthesis because the burning paraffin produces carbon dioxide, and heat too.

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