Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 113, Issue 1, pp 75-88

First online:

Modulation of photosynthetic energy conversion efficiency in nature: from seconds to seasons

  • Barbara Demmig-AdamsAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado Email author 
  • , Christopher M. CohuAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado
  • , Onno MullerAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado
  • , William W. AdamsIIIAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Modulation of the efficiency with which leaves convert absorbed light to photochemical energy [intrinsic efficiency of open photosystem II (PSII) centers, as the ratio of variable to maximal chlorophyll fluorescence] as well as leaf xanthophyll composition (interconversions of the xanthophyll cycle pigments violaxanthin and zeaxanthin) were characterized throughout single days and nights to entire seasons in plants growing naturally in contrasting light and temperature environments. All pronounced decreases of intrinsic PSII efficiency took place in the presence of zeaxanthin. The reversibility of these PSII efficiency changes varied widely, ranging from reversible-within-seconds (in a vine experiencing multiple sunflecks under a eucalypt canopy) to apparently permanently locked-in for entire seasons (throughout the whole winter in a subalpine conifer forest at 3,000 m). While close association between low intrinsic PSII efficiency and zeaxanthin accumulation was ubiquitous, accompanying features (such as trans-thylakoid pH gradient, thylakoid protein composition, and phosphorylation) differed among contrasting conditions. The strongest and longest-lasting depressions in intrinsic PSII efficiency were seen in the most stress-tolerant species. Evergreens, in particular, showed the most pronounced modulation of PSII efficiency and thermal dissipation, and are therefore suggested as model species for the study of photoprotection. Implications of the responses of field-grown plants in nature for mechanistic models are discussed.


Non-photochemical fluorescence quenching Photochemical efficiency Photoprotection Photosynthetic efficiency Xanthophyll cycle Violaxanthin Zeaxanthin