Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 259–268 | Cite as

Compensatory changes in Photosystem II electron turnover rates protect photosynthesis from photoinhibition

  • Michael J. Behrenfeld
  • Ondrej Prasil
  • Zbigniew S. Kolber
  • Marcel Babin
  • Paul G. Falkowski


Exposure of algae or higher plants to bright light can result in a photoinhibitory reduction in the number of functional PS II reaction centers (n) and a consequential decrease in the maximum quantum yield of photosynthesis. However, we found that light-saturated photosynthetic rates (Pmax) in natural phytoplankton assemblages sampled from the south Pacific ocean were not reduced despite photoinhibitory decreases in n of up to 52%. This striking insensitivity of Pmax to photoinhibition resulted from reciprocal increases in electron turnover (\({1 \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {1 {\tau _{PSII} }}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {\tau _{PSII} }}\))through the remaining functional PS II centers. Similar insensitivity of Pmax was also observed in low light adapted cultures of Thalassiosira weissflogii (a marine diatom), but not in high light adapted cells where Pmax decreased in proportion to n. This differential sensitivity to decreases in n occurred because \({1 \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {1 {\tau _{PSII} }}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {\tau _{PSII} }}\) was close to the maximum achievable rate in the high light adapted cells, whereas \({1 \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {1 {\tau _{PSII} }}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {\tau _{PSII} }}\) was initially low in the low light adapted cells and could thus increase in response to decreases in n. Our results indicate that decreases in plant productivity are not necessarily commensurate with photoinhibition, but rather will only occur if decreases in n are sufficient to maximize \({1 \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {1 {\tau _{PSII} }}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {\tau _{PSII} }}\) or incident irradiance becomes subsaturating.

carbon fixation phytoplankton 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Behrenfeld
    • 1
  • Ondrej Prasil
    • 2
  • Zbigniew S. Kolber
    • 1
  • Marcel Babin
    • 3
  • Paul G. Falkowski
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Marine and Coastal SciencesRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA; *Author for correspondence (e-mail
  2. 2.Institute of Microbiology, MBU, AVČRCzech Republic
  3. 3.Laboratoire de Physique et Chimie MarinesUniversité Peirre et Marie Curie and CNRSVillefranche-Sur-Mer FFrance

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