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Tree Physiol. 2017 Aug 1;37(8):1042-1054. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tpx038.

Reduced growth due to belowground sink limitation is not fully explained by reduced photosynthesis.

Author information

1
Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW 2751, Australia.

Abstract

Sink limitation is known to reduce plant growth, but it is not known how plant carbon (C) balance is affected, limiting our ability to predict growth under sink-limited conditions. We manipulated soil volume to impose sink limitation of growth in Eucalyptus tereticornis Sm. seedlings. Seedlings were grown in the field in containers of different sizes and planted flush to the soil alongside freely rooted (Free) seedlings. Container volume negatively affected aboveground growth throughout the experiment, and light saturated rates of leaf photosynthesis were consistently lower in seedlings in containers (-26%) compared with Free seedlings. Significant reductions in photosynthetic capacity in containerized seedlings were related to both reduced leaf nitrogen content and starch accumulation, indicating direct effects of sink limitation on photosynthetic downregulation. After 120 days, harvested biomass of Free seedlings was on average 84% higher than seedlings in containers, but biomass distribution in leaves, stems and roots was not different. However, the reduction in net leaf photosynthesis over the growth period was insufficient to explain the reduction in growth, so that we also observed an apparent reduction in whole-plant C-use efficiency (CUE) between Free seedlings and seedlings in containers. Our results show that sink limitation affects plant growth through feedbacks to both photosynthesis and CUE. Mass balance approaches to predicting plant growth under sink-limited conditions need to incorporate both of these feedbacks.

KEYWORDS:

carbon allocation; photosynthesis; plant growth; sink regulation; soil volume

PMID:
28379555
DOI:
10.1093/treephys/tpx038
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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