Plant responses to elevated CO2 concentrations ([CO2]) may be regulated by both accelerated ontogeny and allocational changes as plants grow. However, isolating ontogeny-related effects from age-related effects are difficult because these factors are often confounded. In this study, the roles of age and ontogeny in photosynthetic responses to elevated [CO2] were examined on Xanthium strumarium L. grown at ambient (365 mumol mol(-1) ) and elevated (730 mumol mol(-1) ) [CO2]. To examine age-related effects, six cohorts were planted at 5-day intervals. To examine ontogeny-related effects, all plants were induced to flower at the same time; ontogeny in Xanthium is relatively unaffected by growth in elevated [CO2]. Growth in elevated [CO2] increased net photosynthetic rates by approximately 30% throughout vegetative growth (i.e. active carbohydrate sinks), approximately 10% during flowering (i.e. minimal sink activity), and approximately 20% during fruit production (i.e. active sinks). At the harvest, the ratio of source to sink tissue significantly decreased with increasing plant age and was correlated with leaf soluble sugar concentration. Leaf soluble sugar concentration was negatively correlated with the relative photosynthetic response to elevated [CO2 ]. These results suggest that age and ontogeny independently affect photosynthetic responses to elevated [CO2] and the effects are mediated by reversible changes in source : sink balance.
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