Plant ecophysiological changes in response to climatic change may be different in northern and southern European countries because different abiotic factors constrain plant physiological activity. We studied the effects of experimental warming and drought on the photosynthetic performance of two ericaceous shrubs (Erica multiflora and Calluna vulgaris) along a European gradient of temperature and precipitation (UK, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Spain). At each site, a passive warming treatment was applied during the night throughout the whole year, whereas the drought treatment excluded rain events over 6-10 weeks during the growing season. We measured leaf gas exchange, chlorophyll a fluorescence, and leaf carbon isotope ratio (delta(13)C) during the growing seasons of 1999 and 2000. Leaf net photosynthetic rates clearly followed a gradient from northern to southern countries in agreement with the geographical gradient in water availability. Accordingly, there was a strong correlation between net photosynthetic rates and the accumulated rainfall over the growing season. Droughted plants showed lower leaf gas exchange rates than control plants in the four sites. Interestingly, although leaf photosynthetic rates decreased along the precipitation gradient and in response to drought treatment, droughted plants were able to maintain higher leaf photosynthetic rates than control plants in relation to the accumulated rainfall over the months previous to the measurements. Droughted plants also showed higher values of potential photochemical efficiency (F-v/F-m) in relation to controls, mainly at midday. The warming treatment did not affect significantly any of the studied instantaneous ecophysiological variables.