Biosynthetic origin of carbon-based secondary compounds: cause of variable responses of woody plants to fertilization?
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We propose that variation in the responses of carbon-based secondary compounds to fertilization in woody plants has a biosynthetic cause. The synthesis of phenylpropanoids and derived compounds (e.g., condensed tannins) competes directly with the synthesis of proteins, and therefore with plant growth, because of a common precursor, phenylalanine. In contrast, the biosynthesis of terpenoids and of hydrolyzable tannins proceeds presumably without direct competition with protein synthesis. Therefore, accelerated plant growth induced by fertilization may cause a reduction in concentrations of phenylpropanoids but may affect less or not at all the levels of other classes of secondary compounds. A meta-analysis based on fertilization experiments with 35 woody plant species supported the predicted differences fertilizing significantly decreased concentrations of phenylpropanoids but not of terpenoids or hydrolyzable tannins.
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