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Excess Diffuse Light Absorption in Upper Mesophyll Limits CO2 Drawdown and Depresses Photosynthesis.

  • Author(s): Earles, J Mason;
  • Théroux-Rancourt, Guillaume;
  • Gilbert, Matthew E;
  • McElrone, Andrew J;
  • Brodersen, Craig R
  • et al.

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In agricultural and natural systems, diffuse light can enhance plant primary productivity due to deeper penetration into and greater irradiance of the entire canopy. However, for individual sun-grown leaves from three species, photosynthesis is actually less efficient under diffuse compared with direct light. Despite its potential impact on canopy-level productivity, the mechanism for this leaf-level diffuse light photosynthetic depression effect is unknown. Here, we investigate if the spatial distribution of light absorption relative to electron transport capacity in sun- and shade-grown sunflower (Helianthus annuus) leaves underlies its previously observed diffuse light photosynthetic depression. Using a new one-dimensional porous medium finite element gas-exchange model parameterized with light absorption profiles, we found that weaker penetration of diffuse versus direct light into the mesophyll of sun-grown sunflower leaves led to a more heterogenous saturation of electron transport capacity and lowered its CO2 concentration drawdown capacity in the intercellular airspace and chloroplast stroma. This decoupling of light availability from photosynthetic capacity under diffuse light is sufficient to generate an 11% decline in photosynthesis in sun-grown but not shade-grown leaves, primarily because thin shade-grown leaves similarly distribute diffuse and direct light throughout the mesophyll. Finally, we illustrate how diffuse light photosynthetic depression could overcome enhancement in canopies with low light extinction coefficients and/or leaf area, pointing toward a novel direction for future research.

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