Can fast-growing plantation trees escape biochemical down-regulation of photosynthesis when grown throughout their complete production cycle in the open air under elevated carbon dioxide?


C. A. Raines. E-mail:


Poplar trees sustain close to the predicted increase in leaf photosynthesis when grown under long-term elevated CO2 concentration ([CO2]). To investigate the mechanisms underlying this response, carbohydrate accumulation and protein expression were determined over four seasons of growth. No increase in the levels of soluble carbohydrates was observed in the young expanding or mature sun leaves of the three poplar genotypes during this period. However, substantial increases in starch levels were observed in the mature leaves of all three poplar genotypes grown in elevated [CO2]. Despite the very high starch levels, no changes in the expression of photosynthetic Calvin cycle proteins, or in the starch biosynthetic enzyme ADP-glucose pyrophosphorylase (AGPase), were observed. This suggested that no long-term photosynthetic acclimation to CO2 occurred in these plants. Our data indicate that poplar trees are able to ‘escape’ from long-term, acclimatory down-regulation of photosynthesis through a high capacity for starch synthesis and carbon export. These findings show that these poplar genotypes are well suited to the elevated [CO2] conditions forecast for the middle of this century and may be particularly suited for planting for the long-term carbon sequestration into wood.