Analysis of differences in photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency of alpine and lowland Poa species
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This study investigates factors determining variation in photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency (φN) in seven slow- and fast-growing Poa species from altitudinally contrasting sites. The species and their environmental origin were (in order of increasing relative growth rate): two alpine (Poa fawcettiae and P. costiniana), one sub-alpine (P. alpina) and three temperate lowland perennials (P. pratensis, P. compressa and P. trivialis), as well as one temperate lowland annual (P. annua). Plants were grown hydroponically under identical conditions with free access to nutrients in a growth room. Photosynthesis per unit leaf area measured at growth irradiance (500 μmol m−2 s−1) was slightly higher in the slow-growing alpine species. At saturating light intensities, photosynthesis was considerably higher in the alpine species than in the lowland species. Carboxylation capacity and Rubisco content per unit leaf area were also greater in the alpine species. Despite variation between the species, the in vivo specific activity of Rubisco showed little relationship to relative growth rate or photosynthetic rate. Both at light saturation and at the growth irradiance, φN was lowest in the slow-growing alpine species P. fawcettiae, P. costiniana and P. alpina, and highest in the fast-growing P. compressa and P. annua. The proportion of leaf nitrogen that was allocated to photosynthetic capacity and the in vivo catalytic constant of Rubisco accounted for most of the variation in φN at light saturation. Minor variations in intercellular CO2 partial pressure also contributed to some extent to the variations in φN at light saturation. The low φN values at growth irradiance exhibited by the alpine species were additionally due to a lower percentage utilisation of their high photosynthetic capacity compared to the lowland species.
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