Agaves exhibit the water-conserving crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) photosynthetic pathway. Some species are potential biofuel feedstocks because they are highly productive in seasonally dry landscapes. In plants with CAM, high growth rates are often believed to be associated with a significant contribution of C3 photosynthesis to total carbon gain when conditions are favourable. There has even been a report of a shift from CAM to C3 in response to overwatering a species ofAgave. We investigated whether C3 photosynthesis can contribute substantially to carbon uptake and growth in young and matureAgave angustifoliacollected from its natural habitat in Panama. In well-watered plants, CO2 uptake in the dark contributed about 75% of daily carbon gain. This day/night pattern of CO2 exchange was highly conserved under a range of environmental conditions and was insensitive to intensive watering. Elevated CO2 (800 ppm) stimulated CO2 fixation predominantly in the light. Exposure to CO2-free air at night markedly enhanced CO2 uptake during the following light period, but CO2 exchange rapidly reverted to its standard pattern when CO2 was supplied during the subsequent 24h. AlthoughA. angustifoliaconsistently engages in CAM as its principal photosynthetic pathway, its relatively limited photosynthetic plasticity does not preclude it from occupying a range of habitats, from relatively mesic tropical environments in Panama to drier habitats in Mexico.
In young and mature plants of the CAM species Agave angustifolia, the day/night pattern of CO2 exchange was highly conserved under a range of environmental conditions.