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Environ Exp Bot. 2000 Oct 1;44(2):151-164.

CO(2) enrichment enhances flag leaf senescence in barley due to greater grain nitrogen sink capacity.

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Institut für Pflanzenökologie der Justus-Liebig-Universität, Heinrich-Buff-Ring 26-32 (IFZ), D-35392, Gießen, Germany


Senescence is a highly regulated process which is under genetic control. In monocarpic plants, the onset of fruit development is the most important factor initiating the senescence process. During senescence, a large fraction of plant nutrients is reallocated away from vegetative tissues into generative tissues. Senescence may therefore be regarded as a highly effective salvage mechanism to save nutrients for the offspring. CO(2) enrichment, besides increasing growth and yield of C(3) plants, has often been shown to accelerate leaf senescence. C(3) plants grown under elevated CO(2) experience alterations in their nutrient relations. In particular their tissue nitrogen concentrations are always lower after exposure to elevated CO(2). We used a monocarpic C(3) crop - spring barley (Hordeum vulgare cv. Alexis) - grown in open-top field chambers to test the effects of CO(2) enrichment on growth and yield, on nitrogen acquisition and redistribution, and on the senescence process in flag leaves, at two applications of nitrogen fertilizer. CO(2) enrichment (650 vs. 366 µmol mol(-1)) caused an increase both in biomass and in grain yield by 38% (average of the two fertilizer applications) which was due to increased tillering. Total nitrogen uptake of the crops was not affected by CO(2) treatment but responded solely to the N supply. Nitrogen concentrations in grains and straw were significantly lower (-33 and -24%) in plants grown at elevated CO(2). Phenological development was not altered by CO(2) until anthesis. However, progress of flag leaf senescence as assessed by chlorophyll content, protein content and content of large and small subunit of RubisCO and of cytochrome b559 was enhanced under elevated CO(2) concentrations by approximately 4 days. We postulate that CO(2) enhanced flag leaf senescence in barley crops by increasing the nitrogen sink capacity of the grains.

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