Growth, photosynthetic acclimation and yield quality in legumes under climate change simulations: an updated survey
Continued emissions of CO2, derived from human activities, increase atmospheric CO2 concentration. The CO2 rise stimulates plant growth and affects yield quality. Effects of elevated CO2 on legume quality depend on interactions with N2-fixing bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi. Growth at elevated CO2 increases photosynthesis under short-term exposures in C3 species. Under long-term exposures, however, plants generally acclimate to elevated CO2 decreasing their photosynthetic capacity. An updated survey of the literature indicates that a key factor, perhaps the most important, that characteristically influences this phenomenon, its occurrence and extent, is the plant source-sink balance. In legumes, the ability of exchanging C for N at nodule level with the N2-fixing symbionts creates an extra C sink that avoids the occurrence of photosynthetic acclimation. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi colonizing roots may also result in increased C sink, preventing photosynthetic acclimation. Defoliation (Anthyllis vulneraria, simulated grazing) or shoot cutting (alfalfa, usual management as forage) largely increases root/shoot ratio. During re-growth at elevated CO2, new shoots growth and nodule respiration function as strong C sinks that counteracts photosynthetic acclimation. In the presence of some limiting factor, the legumes response to elevated CO2 is weakened showing photosynthetic acclimation. This survey has identified limiting factors that include an insufficient N supply from bacterial strains, nutrient-poor soils, low P supply, excess temperature affecting photosynthesis and/or nodule activity, a genetically determined low nodulation capacity, an inability of species or varieties to increase growth (and therefore C sink) at elevated CO2 and a plant phenological state or season when plant growth is stopped.