Interspecific difference in the photosynthesis–nitrogen relationship: patterns, physiological causes, and ecological importance

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The photosynthesis–nitrogen relationship is significantly different among species. Photosynthetic capacity per unit leaf nitrogen, termed as photosynthetic nitrogen-use efficiency (PNUE), has been considered an important leaf trait to characterise species in relation to their leaf economics, physiology, and strategy. In this review, I discuss (1) relations between PNUE and species ecology, (2) physiological causes and (3) ecological implications of the interspecific difference in PNUE. Species with a high PNUE tend to have high growth rates and occur in disturbed or high productivity habitats, while those with a low PNUE occur in stressful or low productivity habitats. PNUE is an important leaf trait that correlates with other leaf traits, such as leaf mass per area (LMA) and leaf life span, irrespective of life form, phylogeny, and biomes. Various factors are involved in the interspecific difference. In particular, nitrogen allocation within leaves and the mesophyll conductance for CO2 diffusion are important. To produce tough leaves, plants need to allocate more biomass and nitrogen to make thick cell walls, leading to a reduction in the mesophyll conductance and in nitrogen allocation to the photosynthetic apparatus. Allocation of biomass and nitrogen to cell walls may cause the negative relationship between PNUE and LMA. Since plants cannot maximise both PNUE and leaf toughness, there is a trade-off between photosynthesis and persistence, which enables the existence of species with various leaf characteristics on the earth.

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I thank T. Hirose, Y. Onoda, I. Terashima, S.-I. Miyazawa and an anonymous reviewer for comments. This work was supported in part by grants-in-aid from the.Japanese Ministry of Education, Science, Sport, and Culture.

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Correspondence to Kouki Hikosaka.

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Hikosaka, K. Interspecific difference in the photosynthesis–nitrogen relationship: patterns, physiological causes, and ecological importance. J Plant Res 117, 481–494 (2004) doi:10.1007/s10265-004-0174-2

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  • Leaf mass per area
  • Leaf toughness
  • Nitrogen allocation
  • Photosynthetic nitrogen-use efficiency
  • Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase