Why Are C3-C4 Intermediate Species Rare?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 2:10 PM
Jennifer E Johnson1, Christopher B Field2 and Joseph A Berry2, (1)University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States, (2)Carnegie Inst Washington, Washington, DC, United States
While C3-C4 intermediate photosynthesis is thought to represent the evolutionary bridge between C3 and C4 photosynthesis, C3-C4 intermediate species are ecologically rare in comparison to both C3 and C4 species. Here, we report results from a laboratory experiment, field observations, and model simulations that suggest a new explanation for the ecological rarity of C3-C4 intermediate species. In the laboratory experiment, we combined gas exchange and fluorescence to characterize the temperature response of photosynthesis in three closely-related species in the genus Flaveria that are representatives of the C3, C3-C4 intermediate, and C4 photosynthetic pathways. The leaf temperature that maximized the quantum yield for CO2 assimilation (ToptCO2)) was 24.9 ± 0.7°C in Flaveria robusta (C3), 29.8 ± 1.0°C in F. chloraefolia (C3-C4), and 35.7 ± 0.8°C in F. bidentis (C4), and was linearly related to the temperature sensitivity of the coupling between CO2 assimilation and electron transport (dCO2/ ΦPSII)/dT)). While F. chloraefolia does not simultaneously occur with F. robusta and F. bidentis in naturally-assembled communities, this C3-C4 intermediate species does occur with other C3 and C4 species. During the growing season in two of these mixed-photosynthetic-type communities, leaf temperatures for F. chloraefolia were similar to the ToptCO2) determined in the laboratory. A model of maximum potential carbon gain suggests that competitive coexistence of C3, C3-C4 intermediate, and C4 species could be dependent on a temperature regime that highlights the distinct relative advantages of the C3-C4 intermediate pathway. In combination, these results suggest that the relative temperature sensitivity of the C3, C3-C4 intermediate, and C4 photosynthetic pathways combined with environmental variation in temperature may help to explain why C3-C4 intermediate species are generally rare.