Effects of cadmium on cork oak (Quercus suber L.) plants grown in hydroponics

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Cork oak (Quercus suber L.) is an autochthonous tree species that is being used for reforestation in heavy-metal-contaminated areas in Spain. A hydroponics experiment was carried out to characterize the effects of Cd on several morphological and physiological parameters in this species, including shoot length, nutrient concentrations and allocation in different organs, leaf pigment concentrations, photosynthetic efficiency, root ferric chelate reductase (FCR) activity and organic acid concentrations in xylem sap. Four different Cd treatments were applied, adding Cd chelated with EDTA or as chloride salt at two different concentrations (10 and 50 µM Cd). After 1 month of Cd treatment, plant growth was significantly inhibited in all treatments. Results indicate that Cd accumulates in all organs 7- to 500-fold when compared with control plants. The highest Cd concentration was found in the 50 µM CdCl2 treatment, which led to concentrations of ∼30, 123 and 1153 µg Cd g−1 dry weight in leaves, stems and roots, respectively. In the strongest Cd treatments the concentrations of P and Ca decreased in some plant parts, whereas the Mn leaf concentrations decreased with three of the four Cd treatments applied. The concentrations of chlorophyll and carotenoids on an area basis decreased, whereas the (zeaxanthin plus antheraxanthin)/(total violaxanthin cycle carotenoids) ratio and the non-photochemical quenching increased significantly in all Cd treatments. Cadmium treatments caused significant increases in the activity of the enzyme FCR in roots and in the concentrations of organic acids in xylem sap. Some of the physiological changes found support the fact that Cd induces a deficiency of Fe in cork oak, although the plant Fe concentrations were not reduced significantly. At higher concentrations the effects of Cd were more pronounced, and were more marked when Cd was in the free ion form than when present in the form of Cd-EDTA.

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