In many perennials, heavy fruit load on a shoot decreases the ability of the plant to undergo floral induction in the following spring, resulting in a pattern of crop production known as alternate bearing. Here, we studied the effects of fruit load on floral determination in 'Hass' avocado (Persea americana). De-fruiting experiments initially confirmed the negative effects of fruit load on return to flowering. Next, we isolated a FLOWERING LOCUS T-like gene, PaFT, hypothesized to act as a phloem-mobile florigen signal and examined its expression profile in shoot tissues of on (fully loaded) and off (fruit-lacking) trees. Expression analyses revealed a strong peak in PaFT transcript levels in leaves of off trees from the end of October through November, followed by a return to starting levels. Moreover and concomitant with inflorescence development, only off buds displayed up-regulation of the floral identity transcripts PaAP1 and PaLFY, with significant variation being detected from October and November, respectively. Furthermore, a parallel microscopic study of off apical buds revealed the presence of secondary inflorescence axis structures that only appeared towards the end of November. Finally, ectopic expression of PaFT in Arabidopsis resulted in early flowering transition. Together, our data suggests a link between increased PaFT expression observed during late autumn and avocado flower induction. Furthermore, our results also imply that, as in the case of other crop trees, fruit-load might affect flowering by repressing the expression of PaFT in the leaves. Possible mechanism(s) by which fruit crop might repress PaFT expression, are discussed.
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© 2014 Ziv et al.