Limitations to photosynthesis in bryophytes: certainties and uncertainties regarding methodology

Publication Name

Journal of Experimental Botany


Bryophytes are the group of land plants with the lowest photosynthetic rates, which was considered to be a consequence of their higher anatomical CO2 diffusional limitation compared with tracheophytes. However, the most recent studies assessing limitations due to biochemistry and mesophyll conductance in bryophytes reveal discrepancies based on the methodology used. In this study, we compared data calculated from two different methodologies for estimating mesophyll conductance: variable J and the curve-fitting method. Although correlated, mesophyll conductance estimated by the curve-fitting method was on average 4-fold higher than the conductance obtained by the variable J method; a large enough difference to account for the scale of differences previously shown between the biochemical and diffusional limitations to photosynthesis. Biochemical limitations were predominant when the curve-fitting method was used. We also demonstrated that variations in bryophyte relative water content during measurements can also introduce errors in the estimation of mesophyll conductance, especially for samples which are overly desiccated. Furthermore, total chlorophyll concentration and soluble proteins were significantly lower in bryophytes than in tracheophytes, and the percentage of proteins quantified as Rubisco was also significantly lower in bryophytes (<6.3% in all studied species) than in angiosperms (>16% in all non-stressed cases). Photosynthetic rates normalized by Rubisco were not significantly different between bryophytes and angiosperms. Our data suggest that the biochemical limitation to photosynthesis in bryophytes is more relevant than so far assumed.

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