Enhancing photosynthesis is widely accepted as critical to advancing crop yield. However, yield consequences of photosynthetic manipulation are confounded by feedback effects arising from interactions with crop growth, development dynamics and the prevailing environment. Here, we developed a cross-scale modelling capability that connects leaf photosynthesis to crop yield in a manner that addresses the confounding factors. The model was validated using data on crop biomass and yield for wheat and sorghum from diverse field experiments. Consequences for yield were simulated for major photosynthetic enhancement targets related to leaf CO2 and light energy capture efficiencies, and for combinations of these targets. Predicted impacts showed marked variation and were dependent on the photosynthetic enhancement, crop type and environment, especially the degree of water limitation. The importance of interdependencies operating across scales of biological organization was highlighted, as was the need to increase understanding and modelling of the photosynthesis–stomatal conductance link to better quantify impacts of enhancing photosynthesis.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $4.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The data that support the findings of this study can be found in the related cited articles and/or from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
The compiled code and files used in the validation, baseline and photosynthetic manipulation simulations are freely available for download at https://github.com/QAAFI/DCaPST.
Long, S. P., Marshall-Colon, A. & Zhu, X.-G. Meeting the global food demand of the future by engineering crop photosynthesis and yield potential. Cell 161, 56–66 (2015).
Parry, M. A. J. et al. Raising yield potential of wheat. II. Increasing photosynthetic capacity and efficiency. J. Exp. Bot. 62, 453–467 (2011).
Ray, D. K., Mueller, N. D., West, P. C. & Foley, J. A. Yield trends are insufficient to double global crop production by 2050. PLoS ONE 8, e66428 (2013).
von Caemmerer, S. & Evans, J. R. Enhancing C3 photosynthesis. Plant Physiol. 154, 589–592 (2010).
von Caemmerer, S. & Furbank, R. T. Strategies for improving C4 photosynthesis. Curr. Opin. Plant Biol. 31, 125–134 (2016).
Wu, A., Doherty, A., Farquhar, G. D. & Hammer, G. L. Simulating daily field crop canopy photosynthesis: an integrated software package. Funct. Plant Biol. 45, 362–377 (2018).
Sinclair, T. R., Purcell, L. C. & Sneller, C. H. Crop transformation and the challenge to increase yield potential. Trends Plant Sci. 9, 70–75 (2004).
Wu, A., Song, Y., van Oosterom, E. J. & Hammer, G. L. Connecting biochemical photosynthesis models with crop models to support crop improvement. Front. Plant Sci. 7, 1518 (2016).
Evans, J. R. Nitrogen and photosynthesis in the flag leaf of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.). Plant Physiol. 72, 297–302 (1983).
van Oosterom, E. J., Borrell, A. K., Chapman, S. C., Broad, I. J. & Hammer, G. L. Functional dynamics of the nitrogen balance of sorghum: I. N demand of vegetative plant parts. Field Crops Res. 115, 19–28 (2010).
van Oosterom, E. J., Chapman, S. C., Borrell, A. K., Broad, I. J. & Hammer, G. L. Functional dynamics of the nitrogen balance of sorghum. II. Grain filling period. Field Crops Res. 115, 29–38 (2010).
Hammer, G. L. et al. Adapting APSIM to model the physiology and genetics of complex adaptive traits in field crops. J. Exp. Bot. 61, 2185–2202 (2010).
Robertson, M. J., Fukai, S., Ludlow, M. M. & Hammer, G. L. Water extraction by grain sorghum in a sub-humid environment. I. Analysis of the water extraction pattern. Field Crops Res. 33, 81–97 (1993).
Hammer, G. L. et al. Can changes in canopy and/or root system architecture explain historical maize yield trends in the U.S. corn belt? Crop Sci. 49, 299–312 (2009).
Farquhar, G. D., von Caemmerer, S. & Berry, J. A. A biochemical model of photosynthetic CO2 assimilation in leaves of C3 species. Planta 149, 78–90 (1980).
von Caemmerer, S. Biochemical Models of Leaf Photosynthesis Vol. 2 (CSIRO Publishing, 2000).
Holzworth, D. P. et al. APSIM—evolution towards a new generation of agricultural systems simulation. Environ. Model. Softw. 62, 327–350 (2014).
Brown, H. E. et al. Plant modelling framework: software for building and running crop models on the APSIM platform. Env. Model. Softw. 62, 385–398 (2014).
Evans, J. R. Improving photosynthesis. Plant Physiol. 162, 1780–1793 (2013).
Grant, R. F., Peters, D. B., Larson, E. M. & Huck, M. G. Simulation of canopy photosynthesis in maize and soybean. Agric. For. Meteorol. 48, 75–92 (1989).
Sinclair, T. R. & Muchow, R. C. Radiation use efficiency. Adv. Agron. 65, 215–265 (1999).
Olioso, A., Carlson, T. N. & Brisson, N. Simulation of diurnal transpiration and photosynthesis of a water stressed soybean crop. Agric. For. Meteorol. 81, 41–59 (1996).
Ghannoum, O. C4 photosynthesis and water stress. Ann. Bot. 103, 635–644 (2009).
Ghannoum, O., Evans, J. R. & von Caemmerer, S. in C 4 Photosynthesis and Related CO 2 Concentrating Mechanisms (eds Raghavendra, A. S. & Sage, R. F.) 129–146 (Springer, 2011).
Ball, J. T., Woodrow, I. & Berry, J. in Progress in Photosynthesis Research (ed. Biggins, J.) Ch. 48 (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987).
Yin, X. & Struik, P. C. Can increased leaf photosynthesis be converted into higher crop mass production? A simulation study for rice using the crop model GECROS. J. Exp. Bot. 68, 2345–2360 (2017).
Amir, J. & Sinclair, T. R. A model of water limitation on spring wheat growth and yield. Field Crops Res. 28, 59–69 (1991).
von Caemmerer, S. et al. Stomatal conductance does not correlate with photosynthetic capacity in transgenic tobacco with reduced amounts of Rubisco. J. Exp. Bot. 55, 1157–1166 (2004).
Fujita, T., Noguchi, K. & Terashima, I. Apoplastic mesophyll signals induce rapid stomatal responses to CO2 in Commelina communis. New Phytol. 199, 395–406 (2013).
Mott, K. A. & Peak, D. Effects of the mesophyll on stomatal responses in amphistomatous leaves. Plant Cell Environ. 41, 2835–2843 (2018).
McGrath, J. M. & Long, S. P. Can the cyanobacterial carbon-concentrating mechanism increase photosynthesis in crop species? A theoretical analysis. Plant Physiol. 164, 2247 (2014).
Sinclair, T. R. Is transpiration efficiency a viable plant trait in breeding for crop improvement? Funct. Plant Biol. 39, 359–365 (2012).
Flexas, J. et al. Mesophyll conductance to CO2 and Rubisco as targets for improving intrinsic water use efficiency in C3 plants. Plant Cell Environ. 39, 965–982 (2016).
Hammer, G. L. & Wright, G. C. A theoretical-analysis of nitrogen and radiation effects on radiation use efficiency in peanut. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 45, 575–589 (1994).
de Pury, D. G. G. & Farquhar, G. D. Simple scaling of photosynthesis from leaves to canopies without the errors of big-leaf models. Plant Cell Environ. 20, 537–557 (1997).
Duncan, W. G., Loomis, R. S., Williams, W. A. & Hanau, R. A model for simulating photosynthesis in plant communities. Hilgardia 38, 181–205 (1967).
Messina, C., Hammer, G., Dong, Z. S., Podlich, D. & Cooper, M. in Crop Physiology: Applications for Genetic Improvement and Agronomy (eds Sadras, V. & Calderini, D.) 235–265 (Elsevier, 2009).
Ritchie, J. T. Model for predicting evaporation from a row crop with incomplete cover. Water Resour. Res. 8, 1204–1213 (1972).
Wong, S. C., Cowan, I. R. & Farquhar, G. D. Leaf conductance in relation to assimilation in Eucalyptus pauciflora Sieb. ex Spreng—influence of irradiance and partial pressure of carbon dioxide. Plant Physiol. 62, 670–674 (1978).
Wong, S. C., Cowan, I. R. & Farquhar, G. D. Stomatal conductance correlates with photosynthetic capacity. Nature 282, 424–426 (1979).
Wolz, K. J., Wertin, T. M., Abordo, M., Wang, D. & Leakey, A. D. B. Diversity in stomatal function is integral to modelling plant carbon and water fluxes. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 1, 1292–1298 (2017).
Leakey, A. D. B. et al. Photosynthesis, productivity, and yield of maize are not affected by open-air elevation of CO2 concentration in the absence of drought. Plant Physiol. 140, 779–790 (2006).
Pengelly, J. J. L. et al. Functional analysis of corn husk photosynthesis. Plant Physiol. 156, 503 (2011).
von Caemmerer, S. & Farquhar, G. D. Some relationships between the biochemistry of photosynthesis and the gas exchange of leaves. Planta 153, 376–387 (1981).
McPherson, H. & Slatyer, R. Mechanisms regulating photosynthesis in Pennisetum typhoides. Aust. J. Biol. Sci. 26, 329–340 (1973).
Yamori, W., Nagai, T. & Makino, A. The rate-limiting step for CO2 assimilation at different temperatures is influenced by the leaf nitrogen content in several C3 crop species. Plant Cell Environ. 34, 764–777 (2011).
Braune, H., Mueller, J. & Diepenbrock, W. Integrating effects of leaf nitrogen, age, rank, and growth temperature into the photosynthesis-stomatal conductance model LEAFC3-N parameterised for barley (Hordeum vulgare L.). Ecol. Model. 220, 1599–1612 (2009).
Sinclair, T. R. & Horie, T. Leaf nitrogen, photosynthesis, and crop radiation use efficiency—a review. Crop Sci. 29, 90–98 (1989).
Gifford, R. M. Plant respiration in productivity models: conceptualisation, representation and issues for global terrestrial carbon-cycle research. Funct. Plant Biol. 30, 171–186 (2003).
Probert, M. E., Dimes, J. P., Keating, B. A., Dalal, R. C. & Strong, W. M. APSIM’s water and nitrogen modules and simulation of the dynamics of water and nitrogen in fallow systems. Agric. Syst. 56, 1–28 (1998).
Lin, M. T., Occhialini, A., Andralojc, P. J., Parry, M. A. J. & Hanson, M. R. A faster Rubisco with potential to increase photosynthesis in crops. Nature 513, 547–550 (2014).
Simkin, A. J., McAusland, L., Lawson, T. & Raines, C. A. Overexpression of the RieskeFeS protein increases electron transport rates and biomass yield. Plant Physiol. 175, 134–145 (2017).
Jahan, E., Amthor, J. S., Farquhar, G. D., Trethowan, R. & Barbour, M. M. Variation in mesophyll conductance among Australian wheat genotypes. Funct. Plant Biol. 41, 568–580 (2014).
Ubierna, N., Gandin, A., Boyd, R. A. & Cousins, A. B. Temperature response of mesophyll conductance in three C4 species calculated with two methods: 18O discrimination and in vitro V pmax. New Phytol. 214, 66–80 (2017).
von Caemmerer, S. & Evans, J. R. Temperature responses of mesophyll conductance differ greatly between species. Plant Cell Environ. 38, 629–637 (2015).
Flexas, J. et al. Mesophyll diffusion conductance to CO2: an unappreciated central player in photosynthesis. Plant Sci. 193, 70–84 (2012).
Flexas, J. et al. Tobacco aquaporin NtAQP1 is involved in mesophyll conductance to CO2 in vivo. Plant J. 48, 427–439 (2006).
This research was conducted by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis (CE1401000015) and funded by the Australian Government.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Wu, A., Hammer, G.L., Doherty, A. et al. Quantifying impacts of enhancing photosynthesis on crop yield. Nat. Plants 5, 380–388 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-019-0398-8
Bottlenecks and opportunities in field-based high-throughput phenotyping for heat and drought stress
Journal of Experimental Botany (2021)
Journal of Experimental Botany (2021)
Plant, Cell & Environment (2021)
Field Crops Research (2021)
International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2021)