Photosynthesis pp 321-351 | Cite as

Acquisition and Diffusion of CO2 in Higher Plant Leaves

  • John R Evans
  • Francesco Loreto
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 9)


Acquisition of CO2 by higher plants involves CO2 diffusion from the air into leaves and, ultimately, into chloroplasts. There, fixation of CO2 into organic compounds creates the concentration gradient which drives CO2 diffusion. CO2 encounters many obstructions along its diffusion path toward chloroplasts. The diffusion resistances attributable to boundary layer and stomata are shared with the opposing flux of water leaving the leaf. Once in the substomatal cavities, however, CO2 faces additional resistances since it has to cross walls and membranes to reach the chloroplasts. We follow the CO2 molecule from the air through the boundary layer, stomata and, finally, the mesophyll. After providing diverse anatomical examples at each level, we review the current understanding about the subtle balance which plants maintain between water loss and CO2 acquisition.

Stomatal responses to many environmental variables are well known, despite our lack of understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Techniques areavailable that allow accurate measurements of conductances through the boundary layer and stomata. The estimation of conductance through the mesophyll, however, has not been feasible until the recent development of rapid measurements of isotopic discrimination and chlorophyll fluorescence. We discuss the principles which allow the estimation of internal conductance based on these techniques and the data available. Both stomatal conductance and internal conductance correlate strongly with photosynthetic capacity and are of similar magnitude. However, stomatal conductance can vary within minutes in response to changes in the environment. Internal conductance, on the other hand, seems to be stable over several days and depends on anatomical properties of the leaf. We close considering the special case of photosynthesis where spatial compartmentation and biochemical mechanisms of CO2 concentration add complexity to the estimation of internal conductance.


Stomatal Conductance Chlorophyll Fluorescence Assimilation Rate Bundle Sheath Carbon Isotope Discrimination 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Δ, Δ1

carbon isotope discrimination, carbon isotope discrimination predicted from P a

Γ, Γ

CO2 compensation point, CO2 compensation point in the absence of respiration R


photochemical efficiency of Photosystem II


rate of CO2 assimilation


rate of transpiration

gb, gg, gw

boundary layer conductance, stromatal conductance, internal conductance


rate of electron transport, rate of electron transport calculated from chlorophyll fluorescence


leaf dry mass per unit area

pa, p3, p1, pc

partial pressures of CO2 in the air surrounding the leaf, at the leaf surface, in the substomatal cavities, at the sites of carboxylation, respectively


rate of non-photorespiratory CO2 evolution (rate of respiration)

Sc, Smax

surface area of chloroplasts exposed to intercellular airspace per unit leaf area, surface area of mesophyll cells exposed to intercellular airspace/per unit leaf area


leaf to air vapor pressure difference


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • John R Evans
    • 1
  • Francesco Loreto
    • 2
  1. 1.Environmental Biology, Research School of Biological SciencesAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.CNR-Istituto di Biochimica ed Ecofisiologia VegetaliMonterotondo Scalo (Roma)Italy

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