Stem CO2 release under illumination: corticular photosynthesis, photorespiration or inhibition of mitochondrial respiration?


Hardy Pfanz. Fax: +49 201 183 4219; e-mail:


In illuminated stems and branches, CO2 release is often reduced. Many light-triggered processes are thought to contribute to this reduction, namely photorespiration, corticular photosynthesis or even an inhibition of mitochondrial respiration. In this study, we investigated these processes with the objective to discriminate their influence to the overall reduction of branch CO2 release in the light. CO2 gas-exchange measurements of young birch (Betula pendula Roth.) branches (< 1.5 cm) performed under photorespiratory (20% O2) and non-photorespiratory (< 2%) conditions revealed that photorespiration does not play a pre-dominant role in carbon exchange. This suppression of photorespiration was attributed to the high CO2 concentrations (Ci) within the bark tissues (1544 ± 227 and 618 ± 43 µmol CO2 mol−1 in the dark and in the light, respectively). Changes in xylem CO2 were not likely to explain the observed decrease in stem CO2 release as gas-exchange measurements before and after cutting of the branches did not effect CO2 efflux to the atmosphere. Combined fluorescence and gas-exchange measurements provided evidence that the light-dependent reduction in CO2 release can pre-dominantly be attributed to corticular refixation, whereas an inhibition of mitochondrial respiration in the light is unlikely to occur. Corticular photosynthesis was able to refix up to 97% of the CO2 produced by branch respiration, although it rarely led to a positive net photosynthetic rate.