, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 255–267 | Cite as

Implications of quantum yield differences on the distributions of C3 and C4 grasses

  • James R. Ehleringer


The implications of a reduced quantum yield (initial slope of the photosynthetic light response curve) in C4 plants and temperature dependence of quantum yield in C3 plants on total canopy primary production were investigated using computer simulations. Since reduced quantum yield represents the only known disadvantage of the C4 photosynthetic pathway, simulations were conducted with grass canopies (high LAI and hence photosynthesis in most leaves will be light-limited) to see if quantum yield is a significant factor in limiting the primary production and thus distributions of C4 grasses. Simulations were performed for three biogeographical or environmental conditions: the Great Plains region of North America, the Sonoran Desert of North America, and shade habitats. For all three cases, the simulations predicted either spatial or temporal gradients in the abundances of C4 grasses identical to the abundance patterns of C4 grasses observed in the field. It is thus concluded that while the C4 photosynthetic mechanism may be highly advantageous in specific environments, it may be disadvantageous in others.


North America Quantum Yield Great Plain Abundance Pattern Yield Difference 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allen, L.H., Jr., Stewart, D.W., Lemon, E.R.: Photosynthesis in plant canopies-effect of light response curves and radiation source geometry. Photosynthetica 8, 184–207 (1974)Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, M.D.: Stand structure and light penetration. II. A theoretical analysis. J. Appl. Ecol. 3, 41–54 (1966)Google Scholar
  3. Biscoe, P.V., Scott, R.K., Monteith, J.L.: Barley and its environment. III. Carbon budget of the stand. J. Appl. Ecol. 12, 269–293 (1975)Google Scholar
  4. Björkman, O.: Comparative studies on photosynthesis in higher plants. In: Photophysiology, Vol. 8 (A. Giese ed.), pp. 1–63. New York: Academic Press 1973Google Scholar
  5. Björkman, O., Mooney, H.A., Ehleringer, J.R.: Photosynthetic responses of plants from habitats with contrasting thermal environments. Carnegie Inst. Wash. Year Book 74, 743–748 (1975)Google Scholar
  6. Black, C.C.: Ecological implications of dividing plants into groups with distinct photosynthetic production capacities. Adv. Ecol. Res. 7, 87–114 (1971)Google Scholar
  7. Black, C.C., Jr.: Photosynthetic carbon fixation in relation to net CO2 uptake. Annu. Rev. Plant Physiol. 24, 253–286 (1973)Google Scholar
  8. Chartier, P., Chartier, M., Catsky, J.: Resistances for carbon dioxide diffusion and for carboxylation as factors in bean leaf photosynthesis. Photosynthetica 4, 48–57 (1970)Google Scholar
  9. Chollet, R., Ogren, W.L.: Regulation of photorespiration in C3 and C4 species. Bot. Rev. 41, 137–179 (1975)Google Scholar
  10. Ehleringer, J.R., Björkman, O.: Quantum yields for CO2 uptake in C3 and C4 plants: dependence on temperature, CO2, and O2 concentration. Plant Physiol. 59, 86–90 (1977)Google Scholar
  11. Ehleringer, J., Björkman, O., Mooney, H.A.: Leaf pubescence: effects on absorptance and photosynthesis in a desert shrub. Science 192, 376–377 (1976)Google Scholar
  12. Gupta, R.K., Saxena, S.K.: Ecological studies on the protected and overgrazed rangelands in the arid zone of west Rajasthan. J. Indian Bot. Soc. 50, 289–300 (1971)Google Scholar
  13. Hatch, M.D.: Mechanism and function of the C4 pathway of photosynthesis. In: Photosynthesis and photorespiration (M.D. Hatch et al., eds.), pp. 139–152. New York: Wiley-Interscience 1971Google Scholar
  14. Hatch, M.D., Slack, C.R.: Photosynthesis by sugar-cane leaves. Biochem. J. 101, 103–111 (1966)Google Scholar
  15. Kendrew, W.G., Currie, B.W.: The climate of central Canada. Ottawa: Edmond Cloutier 1955Google Scholar
  16. Kortschak, H.P., Hartt, C.E., Burr, G.O.: Carbon dioxide fixation in sugar cane leaves. Plant Physiol. 40, 209–213 (1965)Google Scholar
  17. List, R.J.: Smithsonian meterological tables, 6th revised ed. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press 1968Google Scholar
  18. Miller, P.C.: Bioclimate, leaf temperature, and primary production in red mangrove canopies in south Florida. Ecology 53, 22–45 (1972)Google Scholar
  19. Monsi, M., Saeki, T.: Über den Lichtfaktor in den Pflanzengesellschaften und seine Bedeutung für die Stoffproduktion. Jap. J. Bot. 14, 22–52 (1953)Google Scholar
  20. Mooney, H.A., Ehleringer, J., Berry, J.A.: High photosynthetic capacity of a winter annual in Death Valley. Science 194, 322–324 (1976)Google Scholar
  21. Mooney, H.A., Troughton, J.H., Berry, J.A.: Arid climates and photosynthetic systems. Carnegie Inst. Wash. Year Book 73, 793–805 (1974)Google Scholar
  22. Mulroy, T.W., Rundel, P.W.: Annual plants: adaptations to desert environments. Bioscience 27, 109–114 (1977)Google Scholar
  23. Negbi, M.: Status of summer annuals in Palestine. Israel J. Bot. 17, 217–221 (1968)Google Scholar
  24. Pearcy, R.W., Troughton, J.: C4 photosynthesis in tree form Euphorbia species from Hawaiian rainforest sites. Plant Physiol. 55, 1054–1056 (1975)Google Scholar
  25. Sellers, W.D., Hill, R.H.: Arizona climate 1931–1972. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press 1974Google Scholar
  26. Shreve, F., Wiggins, I.L.: Vegetation and flora of the Sonoran Desert, Vol. 1. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press 1964Google Scholar
  27. Teeri, J.A., Stowe, L.G.: Climatic patterns and the distribution of C4 grasses in North America. Oecologia (Berl.) 23, 1–12 (1976)Google Scholar
  28. U.S. Dept. of Commerce: Decennial Census of U.S. Climate. Climatic survey of the United States. Supplement for 1951–1960. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office 1965Google Scholar
  29. Zelitch, I.: Photosynthesis, photorespiration, and plant productivity. New York: Academic Press 1971Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • James R. Ehleringer
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Plant BiologyCarnegie Institution of WashingtonStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations