Developmental Constraints on Photosynthesis: Effects of Light and Nutrition

  • John Richard Evans
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 5)


Leaves have a considerable flexibility that enables them to perform effectively in a range of light environments or where the supply of mineral nutrients is limiting. This requires coordination of the many processes associated with photosynthesis within the leaf. Leaves respond to the irradiance during growth by changing the allocation of nitrogen between proteins. An analysis is presented which allows determination of the allocation that maximizes daily photosynthesis for a given amount of nitrogen. The leaf is faced with a trade-off between increasing light absorption or photosynthetic capacity. Absorption of light can be increased by investing more in pigment-protein complexes, which increases the quantum yield of photosynthesis. Conversely, photosynthetic capacity can be increased by allocating more nitrogen to soluble proteins. The ratio of thylakoid to soluble protein is thus highly responsive to growth irradiance for most species. Photosynthetic capacity per unit leaf area can also be increased by increasing nitrogen content per unit leaf area. This is invariably associated with increased leaf mass per unit leaf area due to elongation and/or more layers of palisade cells, such that nitrogen content per unit dry weight is independent of growth irradiance.

Plants cope with limiting nutrients primarily by altering the production of leaves such that leaves that are formed generally have a minimum content of the element. With nitrogen deficiency, both light and dark reactions are equally affected; Hill and ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase (Rubisco) activities are reduced in parallel. For several other nutrients, including P, Fe, Cu and Mn, deficiency reduces both Hill and Rubisco activities. With P and Fe deficiency, Hill activity is specifically affected and the excess Rubisco capacity is masked by lower activation of the enzyme to bring its activity into line with Hill activity. Stomatal conductance changes in concert with changes in CO2 assimilation capacity brought about by nutrient deficiency. Consequently, the amount of CO2 fixed per unit water transpired is remarkably constant and independent of the plants nutritional status.


Photosynthetic Capacity Leaf Nitrogen Rubisco Activity Unit Leaf Area Leaf Nitrogen Content 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Richard Evans
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Environmental Biology, Research School of Biological SciencesAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Plant Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of UtrechtUtrechtThe Netherlands

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