We have investigated the interactions between resource assimilation and storage in rosette leaves, and their impact on the growth and reproduction of the annual species Arabidopsis thaliana. The resource balance was experimentally perturbed by changing (i) the external nutrition, by varying the nitrogen supply; (ii) the assimilation and reallocation of resources from rosette leaves to reproductive organs, by cutting or covering rosette leaves at the time of early flower bud formation, and (iii) the internal carbon and nitrogen balance of the plants, by using isogenic mutants either lacking starch formation (PGM mutant) or with reduced nitrate uptake (NU mutant).
When plants were grown on high nitrogen, they had higher concentrations of carbohydrates and nitrate in their leaves during the rosette phase than during flowering. However, these storage pools did not significantly contribute to the bulk flow of resources to seeds. The pool size of stored resources in rosette leaves at the onset of seed filling was very low compared to the total amount of carbon and nitrogen needed for seed formation. Instead, the rosette leaves had an important function in the continued assimilation of resources during seed ripening, as shown by the low seed yield of plants whose leaves were covered or cut off. When a key resource became limiting, such as nitrogen in the NU mutants and in plants grown on a low nitrogen supply, stored resources in the rosette leaves (e.g. nitrogen) were remobilized, and made a larger contribution to seed biomass. A change in nutrition resulted in a complete reversal of the plant response: plants shifted from high to low nutrition exhibited a seed yield similar to that of plants grown continuously on a low nitrogen supply, and vice versa. This demonstrates that resource assimilation during the reproductive phase determines seed production.
The PGM mutant had a reduced growth rate and a smaller biomass during the rosette phase as a result of changes in respiration caused by a high turnover of soluble sugars (Caspar et al. 1986; W. Schulze et al. 1991). During flowering, however, the vegetative growth rate in the PGM mutant increased, and exceeded that of the wild-type. By the end of the flowering stage, the biomass of the PGM mutant did not differ from that of the wild-type. However, in contrast to the wild-type, the PGM mutant maintained a high vegetative growth rate during seed formation, but had a low rate of seed production. These differences in allocation in the PGM mutant result in a significantly lower seed yield in the starchless mutants. This indicates that starch formation is not only an important factor during growth in the rosette phase, but is also important for whole plant allocation during seed formation. The NU mutant resembled the wild-type grown on a low nitrogen supply, except that it unexpectedly showed symptoms of carbohydrate shortage as well as nitrogen deficiency.
In all genotypes and treatments, there was a striking correlation between the concentrations of nitrate and organic nitrogen and shoot growth on the one hand, and sucrose concentration and root growth on the other. In addition, nitrate reductase activity (NRA) was correlated with the total carbohydrate concentration: low carbohydrate levels in starchless mutants led to low NRA even at high nitrate supply. Thus the concentrations of stored carbohydrates and nitrate are directly or indirectly involved in regulating allocation.