Needle CO2 exchange, structure and defense traits in relation to needle age in Pinus heldreichii Christ – a relict of Tertiary flora
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Pinus heldreichii Christ is a long-lived, slow-growing Tertiary relict from the Balkans. In this study we evaluated the physiological characteristics of eight needle-age classes of P. heldreichii grown at the Arboretum of the Institute of Dendrology in Kórnik, Poland. At the end of the growing season, current-year foliage had the highest rates of mass-based light-saturated net photosynthesis (Asat) of 33.5 nmol CO2· g–1· s–1. Asat decreased with needle age, but older needle classes retained from approximately 62 to 26% of the current needles’ rate. The relationship between leaf N and chlorophyll a concentration among all needle-age classes was highly significant (r = 0.96, P = 0.0006). The variation in Asat of 1- to 7-year-old needles was linearly related to needle N concentration (r = 0.98, P = 0.0001). Needle dark respiration rates among these needle age classes ranged from 0.8 to 2.2 nmol · g–1· s–1 and decreased with needle age and nitrogen concentration. Total phenols and glucose concentrations increased linearly with needle age. A similar pattern was observed in acid buffering capacity and the pH of tissue homogenates. The water content ranged from 62% for the current needles to 51% for the 6-year-old needles. Greater investment in leaf structural tissue and increased chemical defense is associated with higher structural cost of older needles and may reduce their photosynthetic activity. Significant declines in water and nitrogen content with needle age and an increase in content of phenolics is most likely a defense adaptation of P. heldreichii related to the species’ long-lived leaves.
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