, Volume 231, Issue 5, pp 1137–1144 | Cite as

Heterotrophic carbon gain by the root hemiparasites, Rhinanthus minor and Euphrasia rostkoviana (Orobanchaceae)

  • Jakub TěšitelEmail author
  • Lenka Plavcová
  • Duncan D. Cameron
Original Article


Hemiparasitic plants gain virtually all mineral nutrients and water from their host plant whilst organic carbon is provided, at least in part, by their own photosynthetic activity, although their rates of assimilation are substantially lower than that found in non-parasitic plants. Hence, hemiparasites must gain at least some of their organic carbon heterotrophically from the host plant. Despite this, heterotrophic carbon gain by root hemiparasites has been investigated only for a few genera. We investigated heterotrophic carbon gain by two root hemiparasites, Rhinanthus minor L. and Euphrasia rostkoviana Hayne (Orobanchaceae), using natural abundance stable isotope (δ13C) profiles of both parasites attached to C3 (wheat) and C4 (maize) hosts coupled to a linear two-source isotope-mixing model to estimate the percentage of carbon in the parasite that was derived from the host. Both R. minor and E. rostkoviana attached to maize hosts were significantly more enriched in 13C than those attached to wheat hosts with R. minor becoming more enriched in 13C than E. rostkoviana. The natural abundance 13C profiles of both parasites were not significantly different from their wheat hosts, but were less enriched in 13C than maize hosts. Using a linear two-source isotope-mixing model, we estimated that R. minor and E. rostkoviana adult plants derive c. 50 and 25% of their carbon from their hosts, respectively. In light of these results, we hypothesise that repeatedly observed negative effect of competition for light on hemiparasites acts predominantly in early ontogenetic stages when parasites grow unattached or the abstraction of host nutrients is less effective.


Heterotrophy Maize Parasitism Wheat δ13



We thank Irene Johnson (University of Sheffield) for expert technical support and Heather Walker (University of Sheffield) for analysing samples for 13C content. JT and LP were supported by the Grant Agency of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (grant no. IAA601410805), Grant Agency of the University of South Bohemia (grant no. 28/2007/P-PřF) and the Ministry of Education of the Czech Republic (institutional grant no. MSM6007665801). DDC was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council Independent Fellowship (Award number: NE/E014070/1). We are grateful to James Fisher (University of Sheffield), Jan Lepš (University of South Bohemia), Jiří Šantrůček (University of South Bohemia) and Amanda Schoonmaker (University of Alberta) for constructive comments on the manuscript and discussion on biology and physiology of parasitic plants.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jakub Těšitel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lenka Plavcová
    • 2
    • 3
  • Duncan D. Cameron
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Botany, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaCeske BudejoviceCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Plant Physiology, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaCeske BudejoviceCzech Republic
  3. 3.Department of Renewable ResourcesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  4. 4.Department of Animal and Plant SciencesUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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