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Winter Leaf Yellowing in 'Hass' Avocado

The New Zealand avocado industry is worth $39.7 million in exports of 'Hass' avocados. Crop yields grew steadily from 1996 to 2001 to reach an average of 8.86 tonnes/ha. Since then however, crop yields have remained steady. To increase returns to growers, crop yields must increase. Avocado leaves in New Zealand become yellow in winter and it is hypothesised that chilling, followed by photoinhibition, is leading to photooxidation. Leaf yellowing leads to reduced photosynthetic capacity and early leaf abscission, at a time when carbon fixation and carbohydrate reserves are needed to support developing flowers, subsequent fruit set and vegetative flush, in addition to the existing mature crop. The focus of this research was to determine the underlying causes of yellowing in 'Hass' avocado leaves during winter. It is suspected that it is a result of the creation of free-radical oxygen that causes photooxidation of leaf components under excess light during low temperature conditions, such as experienced on clear winter mornings in the Bay of Plenty. An orchard in Katikati, in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand was selected has it had a history of leaf yellowing. Two open flow, differential gas exchange measurement systems, The CIRAS-1 and the CMS-400 were used to monitor leaf photosynthetic performance over the course of the 2006 winter, with particular focus on the month of August. Chlorophyll a fluorescence was measured with a Walz Mini-PAM, leaf colour with a Minolta Chroma meter CR-200b and chlorophyll content with Minolta SPAD chlorophyll meter (in addition to traditional extraction techniques). There was conclusive evidence that the cold nights resulted in decreased net photosynthesis over the winter, with the depression starting in May and ending around the middle of August, dates that coincide closely with the period when days with mean temperatures less than 10 C occurred. The decrease in photosynthesis appears to be due to a direct effect on the carbon reduction pathway and in unusual in that full recovery seems to occur at the same time during the day. No photodamage of significance was found and the avocado seems to be highly protected against high light when photosynthesis is inhibited. This investigation found that leaf yellowing is not caused by photodamage following depressed photosynthesis. A new hypothesis is proposed which suggests that leaf yellowing is produced by the re-allocation of nitrogen from leaves during cold weather during flowering. It is suggested that the chilled leaves are seen as unproductive, old or shaded leaves by the plant and nutrient resources are re-allocated away from these leaves. A foliar application of 1% low biuret urea and 0.5% magnesium sulphate is currently used by avocado growers to restore leaf colour in leaves that have become yellow over winter. An experiment was carried out on yellowed leaves on 23rd August 2006 to determine the effectiveness of the treatment. This study concluded that the treatment was able to restore some leaf colour, but had no effect on leaf photosynthetic function.
Type of thesis
Mandemaker, A. J. (2007). Winter Leaf Yellowing in ‘Hass’ Avocado (Thesis, Master of Science (MSc)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2251
The University of Waikato
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