Photosynthesis in aging perennial and leaf nitrogen
Perennial energy grasses are a fundamental component of the emerging bioeconomy. While their yield dynamics and environmental services are being widely studied, little attention has been given to how the physiological changes associated with perenniality (e.g., nutrient cycling) that underpin yield and environmental services, change as a function of age. Across species, perennial grasses show a photosynthetic decline as a function of stand age, however, the physiological drivers of this age-related decline are poorly understood. In this manuscript we ask: by how much does nitrogen dilution in larger older plants contribute to this photosynthetic decline? Our results support the hypothesis that nitrogen dilution did not limit photosynthesis in mature stands. Compared per unit of area-based leaf nitrogen, photosynthesis of fertilized mature stands was still 26% lower than unfertilized juvenile stands. We hypothesize that the lack of late-season carbohydrate sinks may instead drive the age-related decline in photosynthesis.
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Photosynthetic gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence were surveyed with a portable infrared gas analyzer (LI-6400xt, Licor®, Lincoln, NE, USA) on the youngest, fully expanded leaf (as indicated by ligule presence) in the sunlit upper canopy. All dried samples were then ground to a powder (< 1mm) and a 3 to 5 mg sub-sample was mixed with tungsten trioxide and combusted in an elemental analyzer (Elementar, Ronkonkoma, NY) to determine the concentration of nitrogen