The biological function of anthocyanins in leaves has been strongly discussed, but the hypothesis of a screening function is favored by most authors. For an evaluation of the function as photoprotective pigments, a quantification of their screening of the mesophyll is important. Here, chlorophyll fluorescence excitation of leaves of a red and a green variety of Berberis thunbergii was used to estimate the extent of screening by anthocyanins at 545 nm and over the whole photosynthetically active wavelength range.
Growth at high light (430 µmol m−2 s−1) resulted in 90% screening at 545 nm corresponding to 40–50% screening over the whole wavelength range, depending on the light source. The concomitant reduction of photosynthetic quantum yield was of the same size as the calculated reduction of light reaching the chloroplasts. The induction of anthocyanins in the red variety also enhanced the epoxidation state of the violaxanthin cycle under growth conditions, indicating that red leaves were suffering less from excessive irradiance.
Pool sizes of violaxanthin cycle carotenoids indicated a shade acclimation of the light harvesting complexes in red leaves. The observed reduction of internal light in anthocyanic leaves has by necessity a photoprotective effect.
Up to 40% of incident light was screened in red Berberis leaves in vivo by anthocyanins, resulting also in up to 40% reduction of light-limited photosynthesis.
Nichelmann, L. and Bilger, W., Quantification of light screening by anthocyanins in leaves of Berberis thunbergii. Planta, pp.1-14.
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