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Eco-physiological basis of shade adaptation of Camellia nitidissima, a rare and endangered forest understory plant of Southeast Asia

Chai, Shengfeng, Tang, Jianmin, Mallik, Azim, Shi, Yancai, Zou, Rong, Li, Jitao, Wei, Xiao
BMC ecology 2018 v.18 no.1 pp. 5
Camellia, carotenoids, chlorophyll, ecophysiology, enzyme activity, habitats, in situ conservation, leaves, malondialdehyde, photoinhibition, proline, shrubs, solar radiation, understory, China, Vietnam
BACKGROUND: Camellia nitidissima, a rare and endangered shrub is narrowly distributed in South China and North Vietnam occurring in forest understory. Their light tolerance mechanism is unclear. We measured photosynthesis and related parameters on 2-years-old cuttings growing at 10, 30, 50 and 100% sunlight. Our research question was: At what light level are C. nitidissima cuttings responding most favorably, and what is the eco-physiological basis for their response to light? We hypothesized that as a forest understory growth of C. nitidissima would respond most favorably at low to intermediate light by optimizing photosynthetic activity, and high light will affect photosynthetic functions due to photoinhibition, damage of photosynthetic apparatus and concomitant enzyme activity. RESULTS: With increasing light, the maximum net photosynthetic rate (PNₘₐₓ) and apparent quantum yield (AQY) decreased, while the light compensation point increased, and light saturation point first increased followed by a decrease. The PNₘₐₓ and AQY under 50 and 100% sunlight were significantly lower than that under 10 and 30% sunlight. The chlorophyll fluorescence parameters Fₘ, Fᵥ, Fᵥ/Fₘ all decreased under high light (> 50%). The contents of chlorophyll a (Chla), chlorophyll b (Chlb), and carotenoid (Car) decreased with increasing light. Relative conductivity, malondialdehyde (MDA) and proline contents in leaves were significantly increased in high light but we found no significant difference in these indices at 10 and 30% sunlight. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that C. nitidissima is a shade adapted plant with poor adaptability to high light (> 50%). The novelty of this research is the demonstration of the eco-physiological basis of its light tolerance (conversely, shade adaptation) mechanisms indicated by decreased photosynthetic activity, chlorophyll fluorescence, Chla, Chlb and Car contents and concomitant increase in relative conductivity, MDA and proline contents at high light causing photoinhibition. For artificial propagation of C. nitidissima we recommend growing cuttings below 30% sunlight. For in situ conservation of this valuable, rare and endangered shrub it is necessary to protect its natural habitats.