Seasonal Patterns of water relations and enzyme activity of the facultative CAM plant Portulacaria afra (L.) Jacq

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Published in: Plant, Cell & Environment, vol. 11, no. 9, 2008.


Portulacaria afra (L.) Jacq. is a perennial facultative CAM species showing a seasonal shift from C3 to CAM photosynthesis. The shift to CAM during the summer occurs despite continued irrigation of the plants. The authors examined the hypothesis that the seasonal shift to CAM occurred because of low transient water potentials. They measured changes in whole leaf water, osmotic and pressure potentials over the course of the shift. They also studied changes in enzyme activity to ascertain if PEP carboxylase and PEP carboxykinase were induced during the seasonal shift to CAM. Water potentials were high, from -0.1 to -0.5 MPa, predawn and midday, when the C3 pathway of photosynthesis was utilized. Osmotic potentials were constant, from -0.7 to - 0.8 MPa, indicating very little change in turgor. P. afra shifted to CAM indicated by large diurnal acid fluctuations (300 400 meq m−2) despite C3-like predawn water potentials. Midday water potentials usually decreased 0.2-0.7 MPa, while the osmotic potential remained unchanged or decreased slightly. Thus, a midday loss of turgor was associated with the use of the CAM pathway. The results support the hypothesis that the induction of CAM occurred due to low transient water potentials and may be partially mediated through the loss of turgor. The shift to CAM is only a partial induction with PEP carboxykinase showing high activity all year round while PEP carboxylase increases three-to five-fold over C3 levels. Relatively high levels of CAM enzyme activity enables the utilization of the CAM pathway in the winter and spring in response to high daytime temperatures and increased evaporative demand. These results would lead to an increase in water use efficiency during such periods when compared to other inducible CAM species.