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Phenology, growth and physiological adjustments of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) to sink limitation induced by fruit pruning

Legros, S., Mialet-Serra, I., Caliman, J.-P., Siregar, F.A., Clement-Vidal, A., Fabre, D., Dingkuhn, M.
Annals of botany 2009 v.104 no.6 pp. 1183-1194
Elaeis guineensis, asexual reproduction, branching, compensatory growth, fruits, glucose, inflorescences, leaves, palm oils, phenology, phenotypic plasticity, photosynthesis, plant architecture, pruning, sexual development, source-sink relationships, starch, stems, vegetative growth, Indonesia
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Despite its simple architecture and small phenotypic plasticity, oil palm has complex phenology and source-sink interactions. Phytomers appear in regular succession but their development takes years, involving long lag periods between environmental influences and their effects on sinks. Plant adjustments to resulting source-sink imbalances are poorly understood. This study investigated oil palm adjustments to imbalances caused by severe fruit pruning. METHODS: An experiment with two treatments (control and complete fruit pruning) during 22 months in 2006-2008) and six replications per treatment was conducted in Indonesia. Phenology, growth of above-ground vegetative and reproductive organs, leaf morphology, inflorescence sex differentiation, dynamics of non-structural carbohydrate reserves and light-saturated net photosynthesis (Amax) were monitored. KEY RESULTS: Artificial sink limitation by complete fruit pruning accelerated development rate, resulting in higher phytomer, leaf and inflorescence numbers. Leaf size and morphology remained unchanged. Complete fruit pruning also suppressed the abortion of male inflorescences, estimated to be triggered at about 16 months before bunch maturity. The number of female inflorescences increased after an estimated lag of 24-26 months, corresponding to time from sex differentiation to bunch maturity. The most important adjustment process was increased assimilate storage in the stem, attaining nearly 50 % of dry weight in the stem top, mainly as starch, whereas glucose, which in controls was the most abundant non-structural carbohydrate stored in oil palm, decreased. CONCLUSIONS: The development rate of oil palm is in part controlled by source-sink relationships. Although increased rate of development and proportion of female inflorescences constituted observed adjustments to sink limitation, the low plasticity of plant architecture (constant leaf size, absence of branching) limited compensatory growth. Non-structural carbohydrate storage was thus the main adjustment process.