Plant Respiration

Team Biology at
Created by: Team Biology at, Last Updated: May 9, 2024

Plant Respiration

Plant respiration is a crucial biological process through which plants convert glucose and oxygen into energy, facilitating growth, maintenance, and overall vitality. This vital function occurs within the cells of plants, mirroring aspects of the respiration seen in animals. However, plant respiration uniquely contributes to the carbon cycle, releasing carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Understanding this process is essential not only for botany but also for broader applications in agriculture and ecology, influencing everything from crop yield optimization to global carbon flux analyses.

What is Plant Respiration?

Plant respiration is a fundamental biological process where plants convert nutrients from sugars into energy, which is essential for their growth and survival. This process involves the intake of oxygen and the release of carbon dioxide, mirroring the respiratory process found in animals but occurring in every cell of the plant.

Process of Plant Respiration

During respiration, plants use oxygen to break down sugar (glucose) obtained through photosynthesis. This breakdown generates energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is necessary for various physiological and biochemical processes within the plant. This process occurs in the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, where glucose is converted into ATP through a series of reactions known as the Krebs cycle or the citric acid cycle.

Steps of Plant Respiration

Plant respiration involves several steps that occur in the mitochondria, often referred to as the powerhouse of the cell. These steps can be grouped into three main stages: glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and electron transport phosphorylation.

1. Glycolysis

  • Location: This initial step takes place in the cytoplasm of the cell.
  • Process: Glycolysis involves the breakdown of glucose (a six-carbon sugar) into two molecules of pyruvate (a three-carbon compound). This process yields a small amount of energy captured in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is a quick source of energy for the cell.
  • Outcome: The net production from glycolysis is two ATP molecules, two pyruvate molecules, and two molecules of NADH (used in further energy production).

2. Krebs Cycle (Citric Acid Cycle)

  • Location: It takes place in the matrix of mitochondria.
  • Process: Pyruvate enters the mitochondria and is converted into acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA) before entering the Krebs cycle. During the cycle, acetyl-CoA is broken down, and more energy-carrying molecules are produced.
  • Outcome: The Krebs cycle generates two ATP molecules per glucose molecule, but it primarily produces NADH and FADH2, which are crucial for the next step in respiration.

3. Electron Transport Chain (ETC) and Oxidative Phosphorylation

  • Location: Inner mitochondrial membrane.
  • Process: NADH and FADH2 donate electrons to the electron transport chain, a series of proteins embedded in the mitochondrial membrane. As electrons pass through these proteins, energy is released and used to pump protons across the membrane, creating a gradient.
  • Outcome: The energy from the proton gradient is used to produce ATP through a process called oxidative phosphorylation. Oxygen acts as the final electron acceptor and combines with hydrogen ions to form water.

Importance of Plant Respiration

Plant respiration is essential for:

  • Energy Production: It provides the energy needed for all physiological and biochemical processes in the plant.
  • Growth and Development: Energy produced via respiration is crucial for cell division, growth, and tissue repair.
  • Metabolic Balance: Respiration helps maintain the balance between the various metabolic processes within the plant body.

Various Parts of a Plant Involved in Plant Respiration

Various Parts of a Plant Involved in Plant Respiration


  • Function in Respiration: Roots absorb oxygen from the air spaces in the soil, which is crucial for respiration. The oxygen is used to convert glucose into energy, helping the roots grow and absorb nutrients and water from the soil.
  • Adaptations: In waterlogged soils, roots may develop specialized structures like aerenchyma to facilitate oxygen flow from aerial parts to the submerged roots.


  • Function in Respiration: Stems, especially in woody plants, contain living cells that require energy from respiration to grow and develop. Stems also transport the glucose produced by photosynthesis in leaves to other parts of the plant.
  • Structures Involved: The stem’s outer layer, or bark, and the underlying tissues contain cells that perform respiration. Lenticels in the bark are critical for gas exchange, allowing oxygen to enter and carbon dioxide to exit.


  • Function in Respiration: Leaves are primary sites of photosynthesis and play a significant role in respiration. During the day, photosynthesis is predominant, but respiration occurs at all times, ensuring continuous energy supply.
  • Structures Involved: The stomata, tiny openings on the leaf surface, regulate gas exchange by opening to allow gases in and out. The mesophyll cells in the leaf, where most of the plant’s respiration occurs, contain numerous mitochondria, the organelles responsible for respiration.

Flowers and Fruits

  • Function in Respiration: Flowers and fruits also respire, using energy for growth, development, and maturation. This is especially important post-pollination, as the fruit develops and requires significant energy.
  • Respiration Rate: The respiration rate in fruits is generally high and changes as the fruit matures and ripens, affecting its texture, flavor, and shelf life.

Plant Respiration Equation

The equation for plant respiration is a critical component in understanding how plants convert sugars into energy, a process vital for their survival and growth. Here is the detailed equation:

C6H12O6+6O2→6CO2+6H2O+energy (ATP)C6​H12​O6​+6O2​→6CO2​+6H2​O+energy (ATP)

  • C6H12O6C6​H12​O6​: This represents glucose, which is the primary sugar molecule that plants use as a source of energy.
  • 6O26O2​: This denotes the six molecules of oxygen that are consumed during the process of respiration.
  • 6CO26CO2​: This indicates the six molecules of carbon dioxide that are produced as a byproduct of respiration.
  • 6H2O6H2​O: This shows the six molecules of water produced during the respiration process.
  • Energy (ATP): ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is the energy currency of the cell, which is produced through the breakdown of glucose.

Types of Plant Respiration

Aerobic Respiration

  • Description: Aerobic respiration is the most common form of respiration in plants. It uses oxygen to break down glucose into carbon dioxide, water, and ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy currency of the cell.
  • Stages: This type includes three main stages: glycolysis, the Krebs cycle (also known as the citric acid cycle), and the electron transport chain.
  • Energy Yield: Aerobic respiration is highly efficient, producing up to 36 ATP molecules per glucose molecule consumed.

Anaerobic Respiration

  • Description: Anaerobic respiration occurs in the absence of oxygen. It is less efficient than aerobic respiration and is often a temporary response to anoxic conditions.
  • Types: There are two main types of anaerobic respiration in plants:
    • Alcoholic Fermentation: This process converts pyruvate, derived from glucose, into ethanol and carbon dioxide, releasing a small amount of ATP. This type of respiration is common in yeast and some plant tissues, especially during hypoxic conditions such as waterlogging.
    • Lactic Acid Fermentation: In some plant tissues, pyruvate is converted into lactic acid instead of ethanol, with a similar low yield of ATP. This pathway is less common in plants compared to animals but can occur under certain stress conditions.


  • Description: Photorespiration is a process that occurs in the chloroplasts and mitochondria of plant cells. It generally happens on hot, dry days when stomata close to conserve water, limiting CO2 intake and increasing O2 concentration within the leaf.
  • Process: During photorespiration, the enzyme Rubisco oxygenates RuBP, wasting some of the energy produced by photosynthesis. This leads to the release of CO2, the consumption of ATP, and no sugar production, making it a seemingly inefficient process.
  • Function: Despite its inefficiency, photorespiration is crucial as it protects the plant from oxidative damage under high oxygen concentrations and plays a role in stress physiology.

Factors Affecting Plant Respiration

1. Temperature

  • Impact: Temperature plays a significant role in regulating the rate of plant respiration. Generally, the respiration rate increases with a rise in temperature up to a certain point. Beyond this optimal range, high temperatures can lead to a rapid decline in respiration efficiency and may cause cellular damage.
  • Mechanism: Temperature affects enzyme activity within the respiratory pathway. Enzymes work most efficiently at optimal temperatures, facilitating the biochemical reactions involved in respiration.

2. Oxygen Availability

  • Impact: Oxygen is crucial for the electron transport chain in the final stage of respiration. Limited oxygen availability can reduce respiration rates and force plants into anaerobic respiration, which is less efficient in energy production.
  • Mechanism: Adequate oxygen ensures the complete oxidation of glucose, maximizing ATP production. In oxygen-poor environments, plants may produce energy through fermentation, leading to less efficient energy output and the production of ethanol or lactic acid.

3. Water Stress

  • Impact: Water availability significantly influences plant respiration. Water stress, either due to excess (waterlogging) or deficiency (drought), can adversely affect respiration.
  • Mechanism: Water stress impacts plant respiration by altering enzyme activities and affecting the plant’s overall metabolic rate. Drought conditions can lead to stomatal closure, reducing carbon dioxide uptake and thus affecting photosynthesis and subsequent respiration rates.

4. Light Intensity

  • Impact: Although respiration is not directly driven by light, the process is indirectly influenced by light conditions through photosynthesis. High light intensity boosts photosynthesis, increasing the availability of glucose for respiration.
  • Mechanism: More glucose produced during photosynthesis under high light conditions provides more substrates for the respiratory pathways, potentially increasing the respiration rate during the day.

5. Age and Growth Stage of the Plant

  • Impact: The age and growth stage of a plant affect its respiration rates. Young, actively growing tissues have higher respiration rates than older or senescent parts of the plant.
  • Mechanism: Growing tissues require more energy for biosynthesis processes, leading to higher demand and utilization of ATP, thereby increasing the rate of respiration.

6. Nutrient Availability

  • Impact: The availability of essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, affects respiration rates. Nutrient-rich conditions support higher metabolic activities and thus higher respiration rates.
  • Mechanism: Nutrients are vital for synthesizing the components of the respiratory pathway, including enzymes and coenzymes. Adequate nutrient supply ensures optimal enzyme functionality and energy production.

Plant Respiration in the Carbon Cycle

The carbon cycle is a complex system where carbon is exchanged between the earth’s atmosphere, oceans, soil, and biological organisms. Plants play a crucial role in this cycle in several ways:

1. Carbon Sequestration During Photosynthesis

  • During photosynthesis, plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and use it to create glucose and oxygen. This process effectively removes carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in the form of organic compounds within the plant.

2. Release of Carbon Dioxide Through Respiration

  • While photosynthesis acts to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, respiration does the opposite by releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere. This release is a natural part of the plant’s metabolic processes, occurring continuously throughout the day and night, albeit at different rates.

3. Impact on the Atmosphere

  • The balance between the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed through photosynthesis and released through respiration influences atmospheric CO2 levels. During the day, photosynthesis generally dominates, leading to a net uptake of CO2 by plants. At night, in the absence of photosynthesis, respiration causes a net release of CO2.

4. Seasonal and Climatic Influences

  • Seasonal changes and climatic conditions can significantly affect the rates of both photosynthesis and respiration. For instance, in colder months, respiration rates may decrease as a result of lower temperatures, reducing the release of CO2. Similarly, during warmer months, both photosynthesis and respiration rates can increase, altering the carbon exchange dynamics.

5. Ecosystem Contributions

  • Different ecosystems contribute variably to the carbon cycle. For example, forests, particularly tropical rainforests, absorb significant amounts of CO2 during photosynthesis, acting as major carbon sinks. Conversely, clearing or burning forests not only reduces this carbon-sequestering capacity but also releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere through decomposition and combustion.

Plant Respiration at Night

Plant respiration at night is a crucial aspect of their metabolic process. Unlike photosynthesis, which only occurs during daylight when sunlight is available, respiration occurs 24 hours a day, including throughout the night. This continuous cycle is essential for plant survival, growth, and energy management.

  • Absence of Photosynthesis: At night, in the absence of sunlight, plants cannot perform photosynthesis. Hence, they rely entirely on respiration to meet their energy needs.
  • Energy Production: During the night, plants break down the sugars (glucose) formed during the day through photosynthesis into energy (ATP), water, and carbon dioxide. This process is critical for maintaining cellular activities that are essential for growth and survival.
  • Oxygen Consumption and Carbon Dioxide Release: Respiration involves taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. At night, this exchange is crucial for maintaining the internal balance of gases within the plant tissues.

Impact of Temperature on Respiration Rates

  1. Increased Temperature and Respiration Rate:
    • As air temperature rises, the enzymes that facilitate respiration become more active, speeding up the metabolic reactions involved in the process. This increase in activity enhances the rate at which glucose is converted into energy (ATP).
    • However, there is an optimal temperature range for these enzymatic activities. Beyond this range, the enzymes may become denatured (lose their functional shape), which can drastically slow down or halt the respiration process.
  2. Lower Temperatures and Reduced Respiration:
    • At lower temperatures, enzymatic activity decreases, leading to a slower rate of respiration. This reduced activity means that plants consume less oxygen and produce less carbon dioxide and energy.
    • This slowdown can be beneficial in environments where energy conservation is crucial for survival, particularly in colder climates or during seasonal changes when plants enter a dormant state.


What is Plant Respiration vs Photosynthesis?

Plant respiration converts glucose into energy, releasing CO2; photosynthesis uses CO2 and sunlight to create glucose and O2.

Are Plants Aerobic or Anaerobic Respiration?

Plants primarily perform aerobic respiration but can switch to anaerobic respiration under oxygen-deficient conditions.

What is Plant Cell Respiration?

Plant cell respiration is the metabolic process of converting glucose into ATP in the presence of oxygen.

What is the Plant Respiration Cycle Called?

The plant respiration cycle is known as the Krebs cycle or the citric acid cycle.

What is Plant Respiration?

Plant respiration is the biochemical process by which plants convert organic materials into energy, releasing carbon dioxide.

AI Generator

Text prompt

Add Tone

10 Examples of Public speaking

20 Examples of Gas lighting