Alpha and quantum yield of aquatic plants derived from PAM fluorometry: Uses and misuses

Shai Saroussi, Sven Beer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The slope of the initial linear range of a photosynthesis-irradiance (P-I) curve, alpha (α), is frequently, but often incorrectly, used to denote the maximal quantum yield (or the "efficiency" of photosynthesis) of higher plants and macroalgae under the conditions for which the P-I curve was measured. When using the increasingly popular method of pulse amplitude modulated (PAM) fluorometry, the determination of α from so-called rapid light curves (RLC) may lead to misinterpretations when comparing photosynthetic efficiencies under different environmental conditions. Furthermore, since PAM fluorometry measures the quantum yield (Y) directly, there may be no need to estimate it from the initial slopes of RLCs. We compared photosynthetic parameters derived from RLCs of Ulva sp. measured during winter and summer, and show large differences in α when electron transport rates (ETR) were plotted against incident irradiance (Ii) [α = 0.26 ± 0.00 versus 0.08 ± 0.01 during the winter (November-December) and summer (July-August), respectively], as is usually done. On the other hand, no differences in the initial slopes of the RLCs were apparent when plotting ETR versus the absorbed irradiance (Ia) (initial slope = 0.75 ± 0.01 versus 0.62 ± 0.12 during the winter and summer, respectively); this is called for since also ETR is calculated using Ia. Using the Ia based RLCs, it was also found that the values of the initial slopes equalled those of the first Y-value measurements of the RLCs (Y0) (t-test, p > 0.05, r2 = 0.85). Therefore, when using PAM fluorometry, we suggest (a) to present the x-axis of RLCs as Ia (Ii × AF × 0.5), and ETR on the y-axis as Y × Ia, and (b) that Y0 can be taken as a correct measure of the maximal quantum yield instead of estimating it from an RLC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-92
Number of pages4
JournalAquatic Botany
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007


  • Initial slope
  • P-I curve
  • PAM fluorometry
  • Quantum yield
  • Rapid light curve
  • Ulva sp.
  • α


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