, Volume 160, Issue 3, pp 443–451

The role of Rubisco and cell walls in the interspecific variation in photosynthetic capacity

Physiological Ecology - Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-009-1315-z

Cite this article as:
Hikosaka, K. & Shigeno, A. Oecologia (2009) 160: 443. doi:10.1007/s00442-009-1315-z


Photosynthetic capacity is known to vary considerably among species. Its physiological cause and ecological significance have been one of the most fundamental questions in plant ecophysiology. We studied the contents of Rubisco (a key enzyme of photosynthesis) and cell walls in leaves of 26 species with a large variation in photosynthetic rates. We focused on photosynthetic nitrogen-use efficiency (PNUE, photosynthetic rate per nitrogen), which can be expressed as the product of Rubisco-use efficiency (RBUE, photosynthetic rate per Rubisco) and Rubisco nitrogen fraction (RNF, Rubisco nitrogen per total leaf nitrogen). RBUE accounted for 70% of the interspecific variation in PNUE. The variation in RBUE was ascribed partly to stomatal conductance, and other factors such as mesophyll conductance and Rubisco kinetics might also be involved. RNF was also significantly related to PNUE but the correlation was relatively weak. Cell wall nitrogen fraction (WNF, cell wall nitrogen per total leaf nitrogen) increased with increasing leaf mass per area, but there was no correlation between RNF and WNF. These results suggest that nitrogen allocation to cell walls does not explain the variation in PNUE. The difference in PNUE was not caused by a sole factor that was markedly different among species but by several factors each of which was slightly disadvantageous in low PNUE species.


Cell wall nitrogenLeaf trait convergenceLife formNitrogen partitioningPhotosynthetic nitrogen-use efficiency



Ratio of CO2 concentration in intercellular spaces to that in air


Leaf life span


Leaf mass per area


Leaf nitrogen


Rubisco (ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase)


Rubisco nitrogen fraction


Photosynthetic rate


Photosynthetic nitrogen-use efficiency


Rubisco-use efficiency


Cell wall mass


Cell wall nitrogen


Cell wall nitrogen fraction

Subscripted “area”

Per unit leaf area

Subscripted “mass”

Per unit mass

Supplementary material

442_2009_1315_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (49 kb)
Phylogeny of studied species (PDF 48 kb)
442_2009_1315_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (60 kb)
Life form and leaf trait data of studied species (PDF 60 kb)
442_2009_1315_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (68 kb)
Results of regression analyses (PDF 67 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Life ScienceTohoku UniversityAobaJapan