Daily variations in photoprotective mechanisms were studied in sun and shade leaves of 40-year-old cork oak (Quercus suber L.) trees during early summer in Portugal. Although trees were not severely water stressed because predawn leaf water potentials remained high, photosynthesis and stomatal conductance decreased at midday. The midday depression in gas exchange was not reversed by short-term exposure to ''optimal'' conditions of temperature, light and vapor pressure deficit. Chlorophyll a fluorescence, maximum photochemical yield of photosystem II and the quantum yield of noncyclic electron transport showed midday depressions, but recovered by the evening. Both short-term changes in the components of the xanthophyll cycle (reversible de-epoxidation of violaxanthin during the day) as well as long-term changes (higher xanthophyll content in sun compared with shade leaves) were detected and may play a role in the dissipation of excess energy at midday. Because the activities of enzymes of the antioxidant system, superoxide dismutase and ascorbate peroxidase, were high enough to cope with the increase in oxygen reactive species likely to arise under the stressful conditions of midday, we conclude that these enzymes may provide an additional mechanism for energy dissipation.
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