, Volume 173, Issue 2, pp 375-385
Date: 27 Mar 2013

Photosynthetic benefits of ultraviolet-A to Pimelea ligustrina, a woody shrub of sub-alpine Australia

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Abstract

The definition of photosynthetically active radiation (Q) as the visible waveband (λ 400–700 nm) is a core assumption of much of modern plant biology and global models of carbon and water fluxes. On the other hand, much research has focused on potential mutation and damage to leaves caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation (280–400 nm), and anatomical and physiological adaptations that help avoid such damage. Even so, plant responses to UV-A are poorly described and, until now, photosynthetic utilization of UV-A has not been elucidated under full light conditions in the field. We found that the UV-A content of sunlight increased photosynthetic rates in situ by 12 % in Pimelea ligustrina Labill., a common and indigenous woody shrub of alpine ecosystems of the Southern Hemisphere. Compared to companion shrubs, UV-A-induced photosynthesis in P. ligustrina resulted from reduced physical and chemical capacities to screen UV-A at the leaf surface (illustrated by a lack of cuticle and reduced phenol index) and the resulting ability of UV-A to excite chlorophyll (Chl) a directly, and via energy provided by the carotenoid lutein. A screening of 55 additional sub-alpine species showed that 47 % of the plant taxa also display Chl a fluorescence under UV-A. If Chl a fluorescence indicates potential for photosynthetic gain, continued exclusion of UV-A from definitions of Q in this ecosystem could result in underestimates of measured and modeled rates of photosynthesis and miscalculation of potential for carbon sequestration. We suggest that carbon gain for alpine environs across the globe could be similarly underestimated given that UV-A radiation increases with altitude and that the frequently dominant herb and grass life-forms often transmit UV-A through the epidermis.

Communicated by Ylo Niinemets.