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The compensation point is the amount of light intensity on the light curve where the rate of photosynthesis exactly matches the rate of respiration. At this point, the uptake of CO2 through photosynthetic pathways is exactly matched to the respiratory release of carbon dioxide, and the uptake of O2 by respiration is exactly matched to the photosynthetic release of oxygen.
In assimilation terms, at compensation point, the net carbon dioxide assimilation is zero. Leaves release CO2 by photorespiration and day respiration, but CO2 is also converted into carbohydrate by photosynthesis. Assimilation is therefore the difference in the rate of these processes. At a normal partial pressure of CO2 (338mbar in 1980), there is an irradiation at which the net assimilation of CO2 is zero. For instance, in the early morning and late evenings, the compensation point may be reached as photosynthetic activity decreases and respiration increases. Therefore, the partial pressure of CO2 at the compensation point, also known as gamma, is a function of irradiation. The irradiation dependence of the compensation point is explained by the RuBP (ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate) concentration. When the acceptor RuBP is in saturated concentration, gamma is independent of irradiation. However at low irradiation, only a small fraction of the sites on RuBP carboxylase-oxygenase enzyme (Rubisco) have the electron acceptor RuBP. This decreases the photosynthetic activity and therefore affects gamma. The intracellular concentration of CO2 affects the rates of photosynthesis and photo respiration. At higher carbon dioxide concentrations, the photosynthesis rate is higher, while at low CO2 concentrations, photo respiration is higher.
The compensation point is reached during early mornings and late evenings. Respiration is relatively constant, whereas photosynthesis depends on the amount of sunlight. When the rate of photosynthesis equals the rate of respiration, the compensation point occurs.
At the compensation point, the rate of photosynthesis is balanced to the rate of respiration. Products of photosynthesis are used up in respiration so that the plant is neither consuming nor building biomass.
For aquatic plants where the level of light at any given depth is roughly constant for most of the day, the compensation point is the depth at which light penetrating the water creates the same balanced effect.
- O.L, Lang. Physiological plat ecology II,water relations and carbon assimilation. New York: Springer-Verlag. pp. 556–558.