Jaikumar, N., S. S. Snapp, and T. D. Sharkey. 2016. Older Thinopyrum intermedium (Poaceae) plants exhibit lower maximal photosynthetic capacity but superior photosynthetic acclimation to cold stress compared to young plants. Journal of Experimental Botany doi: 10.1093/jxb/erw253
Effects of plant age on resource acquisition and stress tolerance processes is a largely unstudied subject in herbaceous perennials. In a field experiment, we compared rates of photosynthesis (A), ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate (RuBP) carboxylation capacity (VCmax), maximum electron transport rate (Jmax), and triose phosphate utilization (TPU), as well as concentrations of Rubisco and sucrose-phosphate synthase (SPS) in 5-year-old and 2-year-old intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium) under both optimal growing conditions and cold stress in early spring and autumn. This species is a relative of wheat undergoing domestication. An additional experiment compared photosynthetic rates in different cohorts at mid-season and under colder conditions. We hypothesized that photosynthetic capacity in older plants would be lower under favorable conditions but higher under cold stress. Our hypothesis was generally supported. Under cold stress, 5-year-old plants exhibited higher A, TPU, and temperature-adjusted VCmax than younger plants, as well as 50% more SPS and 37% more Rubisco. In contrast, at mid-season, photosynthetic capacities in older plants were lower than in younger plants in one experiment, and similar in the other, independent of differences in water status. Both cohorts increased A, temperature-adjusted TPU and Jmax, [Rubisco], and [SPS] under cold stress, but changes were greater in older plants. Photosynthetic differences were largest at 1.2 ºC in very early spring, where older plants had 200% higher A and maintained up to 17% of their peak photosynthetic capacity. We find evidence of increased cold tolerance in older cohorts of wheatgrass, consistent with a growing body of research in woody perennials.
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