We investigated diurnal and seasonal changes in carbon acquisition and partitioning of recently assimilated carbon in fast- and slow-growing families of loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) to determine whether fast-growing families exhibited greater carbon gain at the leaf level. Since planting on a xeric infertile site in Scotland County, NC, USA in 1993, five Atlantic Coastal Plain (ACP) and five "Lost Pines" Texas (TX) families have been grown with either optimal nutrition or without fertilization (control). In 1998 and 1999, gas exchange parameters were monitored bimonthly in four families and needles were analyzed bimonthly for starch and soluble sugar concentrations. Although diurnal and seasonal effects on net photosynthesis (A(net)) and maximum rate of light-saturated photosynthesis (A(max)) were significant, few family or treatment differences in gas exchange characteristics were observed. The A(net) peaked at different times during the day over the season, and A(max) was generally highest in May. Instantaneous water-use efficiency (WUEi), derived from gas exchange parameters, did not differ among families, whereas foliage stable isotope composition (delta(13)C) values suggested that TX families exhibited lower WUE than more mesic ACP families. Although there were no diurnal effects on foliar starch concentrations, needles exhibited pronounced seasonal changes in absolute concentrations of total nonstructural carbohydrates (TNC), starch and soluble sugars, and in partitioning of TNC to starch and sugars, mirroring seasonal changes in photosynthesis and shoot and root growth. In all families, foliar starch concentrations peaked in May and decreased to a minimum in winter, whereas reducing sugar concentrations were highest in winter. Some family and treatment differences in partitioning of recently assimilated carbon in needles were observed, with the two TX families exhibiting higher concentrations of TNC and starch and enhanced starch partitioning compared with the ACP families. We conclude that growth differences among the four families are not a function of differences in carbon acquisition or partitioning at the leaf level.
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