Journal Article

Optical effects of abaxial anthocyanin on absorption of red wavelengths by understorey species: revisiting the back-scatter hypothesis

Nicole M. Hughes, Thomas C. Vogelmann and William K. Smith

in Journal of Experimental Botany

Published on behalf of Society for Experimental Biology

Volume 59, issue 12, pages 3435-3442
Published in print September 2008 | ISSN: 0022-0957
Published online July 2008 | e-ISSN: 1460-2431 | DOI:

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A red/purple coloration of lower (abaxial) leaf surfaces is commonly observed in deeply-shaded understorey plants, especially in the tropics. However, the functional significance of red abaxial coloration, including its role in photosynthetic adaptation, remains unclear. The objective of this study was to test the back-scatter hypothesis for abaxial leaf coloration, which posits that red pigments internally reflect/scatter red light transmitted by the upper leaf surface back into the mesophyll, thereby enhancing photon capture in light-limited environments. Abaxially red/non-red variegated leaves of Begonia heracleifolia (Cham. & Schltdl.) were used to compare reflectance spectra and chlorophyll fluorescence profiles of abaxially anthocyanic (red) and acyanic (non-red) tissues under red light. Photosynthetic gas exchange in response to red light was also compared for abaxially red/non-red leaf sections. The results did not support a back-scattering function, as anthocyanic leaf surfaces were not more reflective of red light than acyanic surfaces. Anthocyanic tissues also did not exhibit any increases in the mesophyll absorbance of red light, or increased photosynthetic gas exchange under red light at any intensity, relative to acyanic tissues. These results suggest that abaxial anthocyanins do not significantly enhance the absorption of red light in the species tested, and alternative functions are discussed.

Keywords: Abaxial; anthocyanin; back-scatter; Begonia; photosynthesis; photoprotection; shade; understorey

Journal Article.  3943 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry

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