Increased photosynthetic acclimation in alfalfa associated with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and cultivated in greenhouse under elevated CO2
Medicago sativa L. (alfalfa) can exhibit photosynthetic down-regulation when grown in greenhouse conditions under elevated atmospheric CO2. This forage legume can establish a double symbiosis with nitrogen fixing bacteria and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), which may increase the carbon sink effect of roots. Our aim was to assess whether the association of alfalfa with AMF can avoid, diminish or delay the photosynthetic acclimation observed in previous studies performed with nodulated plants. The results, however, showed that mycorrhizal (M) alfalfa at the end of their vegetative period had lower carbon (C) discrimination than non-mycorrhizal (NM) controls, indicating photosynthetic acclimation under ECO2 in plants associated with AMF. Decreased C discrimination was due to the acclimation of conductance, since the amount of Rubisco and the expression of genes codifying both large and small subunits of Rubisco were similar or slightly higher in M than in NM plants. Moreover, M alfalfa accumulated a greater amount of soluble sugars in leaves than NM plants, thus favoring a down-regulation effect on photosynthetic rates. The enhanced contents of sugars in leaves coincided with a reduced percentage of arbuscules in roots, suggesting decreased sink of carbohydrates from shoots to roots in M plants. The shorter life cycle of alfalfa associated with AMF in comparison with the NM controls may also be related to the accelerated photosynthetic acclimation in M plants. Further research is needed to clarify to what extent this behavior could be extrapolated to alfalfa cultivated in the field and subjected to periodic cutting of shoots under climatic change scenarios.