Growth and photosynthetic responses to salinity of the salt-marsh shrub Atriplex portulacoides

Susana Redondo-Gómez, Enrique Mateos-Naranjo, Anthony J Davy, Francisco Fernández-Muñoz, Eloy M Castellanos, Teresa Luque, M Enrique Figueroa
Annals of Botany 2007, 100 (3): 555-63

BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Atriplex (Halimione) portulacoides is a halophytic, C(3) shrub. It is virtually confined to coastal salt marshes, where it often dominates the vegetation. The aim of this study was to investigate its growth responses to salinity and the extent to which these could be explained by photosynthetic physiology.

METHODS: The responses of young plants to salinity in the range 0-700 mol m(-3) NaCl were investigated in a glasshouse experiment. The performance of plants was examined using classical growth analysis, measurements of gas exchange (infrared gas analysis), determination of chlorophyll fluorescence characteristics (modulated fluorimeter) and photosynthetic pigment concentrations; total ash, sodium, potassium and nitrogen concentrations, and relative water content were also determined.

KEY RESULTS: Plants accumulated Na(+) approximately in proportion to external salinity. Salt stimulated growth up to an external concentration of 200 mol m(-3) NaCl and some growth was maintained at higher salinities. The main determinant of growth response to salinity was unit leaf rate. This was itself reflected in rates of CO(2) assimilation, which were not affected by 200 mol m(-3) but were reduced at higher salinities. Reductions in net photosynthetic rate could be accounted for largely by lower stomatal conductance and intercellular CO(2) concentration. Apart from possible effects of osmotic shock at the beginning of the experiment, salinity did not have any adverse effect on photosystem II (PSII). Neither the quantum efficiency of PSII (Phi(PSII)) nor the chlorophyll fluorescence ratio (F(v)/F(m)) were reduced by salinity, and lower mid-day values recovered by dawn. Mid-day F(v)/F(m) was in fact depressed more at low external sodium concentration, by the end of the experiment.

CONCLUSIONS: The growth responses of the hygro-halophyte A. portulacoides to salinity appear largely to depend on changes in its rate of photosynthetic gas exchange. Photosynthesis appears to be limited mainly through stomatal conductance and hence intercellular CO(2) concentration, rather than by effects on PSII; moderate salinity might stimulate carboxylation capacity. This is in contrast to more extreme halophytes, for which an ability to maintain leaf area can partially offset declining rates of carbon assimilation at high salinity.

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