Orange rust of sugarcane (Saccharum spp. hybrids), caused by Puccinia kuehnii, is a relatively new disease in the Western Hemisphere that substantially reduces yields in susceptible sugarcane genotypes. The objective of this study was to determine the physiological mechanisms of orange rust–induced reductions in sugarcane growth and yield by quantifying effects of the disease on leaf SPAD index (an indication of leaf chlorophyll content), net photosynthetic rate, dark respiration, maximum quantum yield of CO2 assimilation, carbon fixation efficiency, and the relationships between these leaf photosynthetic components and rust disease ratings. Plants growing in pots were inoculated with the orange rust pathogen using a leaf whorl inoculation method. A disease rating was assigned using a scale from 0 to 4 with intervals of 0.5. At disease ratings ≥2, the rust-infected leaf portion of inoculated plants showed significant reductions in SPAD index, maximum quantum yield, carbon fixation efficiency, stomatal conductance, leaf transpiration rate, and net photosynthetic rate; but the rusted portion of the infected leaves had increased intercellular CO2 concentration and leaf dark respiration rate. Although leaf SPAD index, photosynthetic rate, stomatal conductance, and transpiration rate at the rust-infected portion decreased linearly with increased rust rating, the effect of orange rust on photosynthetic rate was much greater than that on stomatal conductance and transpiration. Unlike earlier reports on other crops, reduction in leaf photosynthesis by orange rust under low light was greater than that under high light conditions. These results help improve the understanding of orange rust etiology and physiological bases of sugarcane yield loss caused by orange rust.
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