Responses of photosynthesis and carbohydrate‐partitioning to limitations in nitrogen and water availability in field‐grown sunflower


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Abstract. Sunflower plants (Helianthus annuus L., cv. CGL 208) were field‐grown in adjacent plots of varying resource availability. Control plants received irrigation (on a 4–5 d interval) and high levels of fertilizer nitrogen. Nutrient‐stress (N‐stress) plants received control levels of irrigation but no nutrient amendments and were determined to be nitrogen‐limited. Water‐stress (H2O‐stress) plants received control levels of fertilizer nitrogen, but no irrigation after approximately 6 weeks of plant growth. Both stress treatments reduced maximum and diurnal net photosynthesis (A) but resulted in different physiological or biochemical adjustments that tended to maintain or increase A per unit of resource (nitrogen or water) in shortest supply while decreasing the ratio of A per unit of abundant resource. Nutrient‐stress reduced total foliar nitrogen, foliar chlorophyll, and initial and total RuBPCase activities, thereby enhancing or preserving photosynthetic nitrogen‐use efficiency (NUE), defined as the maximum A observed per unit of leaf nitrogen, relative to the control and H2O‐stress treatments. In addition, N‐stress reduced photosynthetic water‐use efficiency (WUE), defined as the ratio of A to stomatal conductance to water vapour (g). The slope of A versus g increased with H2O‐stress. In addition, sunflower plants responded to H2O‐stress by accumulating foliar glucose and sucrose and by exhibiting diurnal leaf wilting, which presumably provided additional improvements in photosynthetic WUE through osmoregulation and reduction of midday radiation interception respectively. Photosynthetic NUE was decreased by H2O‐stress in that control levels of total nitrogen, foliar chlorophyll, and RuBPCase activities were maintained even after mean diurnal levels of A had fallen to less than 50% of the control level. We conclude that field‐grown sunflower manages a trade‐off between photosynthetic WUE and NUE, increasing use efficiency of the scarce resource while decreasing use efficiency of the abundant resource.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)963-970
Number of pages8
JournalPlant, Cell and Environment
Issue number9
StatePublished - Dec 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • Helianthus annuus
  • drought‐stress
  • nitrogen‐stress
  • photosynthetic nitrogen‐use efficiency
  • photosynthetic water‐use efficiency
  • sunflower

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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