Heterotrophic carbon gain by the root hemiparasites, Rhinanthus minor and Euphrasia rostkoviana (Orobanchaceae)

Jakub Těšitel, L. Plavcová, D.D. Cameron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hemiparasitic plants gain virtually all mineral nutrients and water from their host plant whilst organic carbon is provided, at least in part, by their own photosynthetic activity, although their rates of assimilation are substantially lower than that found in non-parasitic plants. Hence, hemiparasites must gain at least some of their organic carbon heterotrophically from the host plant. Despite this, heterotrophic carbon gain by root hemiparasites has been investigated only for a few genera. We investigated heterotrophic carbon gain by two root hemiparasites, Rhinanthus minor L. and Euphrasia rostkoviana Hayne (Orobanchaceae), using natural abundance stable isotope (δ13C) profiles of both parasites attached to C3 (wheat) and C4 (maize) hosts coupled to a linear two-source isotope-mixing model to estimate the percentage of carbon in the parasite that was derived from the host. Both R. minor and E. rostkoviana attached to maize hosts were significantly more enriched in 13C than those attached to wheat hosts with R. minor becoming more enriched in 13C than E. rostkoviana. The natural abundance 13C profiles of both parasites were not significantly different from their wheat hosts, but were less enriched in 13C than maize hosts. Using a linear two-source isotope-mixing model, we estimated that R. minor and E. rostkoviana adult plants derive c. 50 and 25% of their carbon from their hosts, respectively. In light of these results, we hypothesise that repeatedly observed negative effect of competition for light on hemiparasites acts predominantly in early ontogenetic stages when parasites grow unattached or the abstraction of host nutrients is less effective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1137-1144
Number of pages8
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2010


  • δ13C
  • Heterotrophy
  • Maize
  • Parasitism
  • Wheat


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