Phenolic compounds are involved in plant response to environmental conditions and are highly present in leaves of Coffea arabica L., originally an understory shrub. To increase knowledge of C. arabica leaf phenolic compounds and their patterns in adaptation to light intensity, mature leaves of Ethiopian wild accessions, American pure lines and their relative F1 hybrids were sampled in full sun or under 50% shade field plots in Mexico and at two contrasting elevations in Nicaragua and Colombia. Twenty-one phenolic compounds were identified by LC-DAD-MS2 and sixteen were quantified by HPLC-DAD. Four of them appeared to be involved in C. arabica response to light intensity. They were consistently more accumulated in full sun, presenting a stable ratio of leaf content in the sun vs. shade for all the studied genotypes: 1.6 for 5-CQA, F-dihex and mangiferin and 2.8 for rutin. Moreover, 5-CQA and mangiferin contents, in full sun and shade, allowed for differentiating the two genetic groups of Ethiopian wild accessions (higher contents) vs. cultivated American pure lines. They appear, therefore, to be potential biomarkers of adaptation of C. arabica to light intensity for breeding programs. We hypothesize that low 5-CQA and mangiferin leaf contents should be searched for adaptation to full-sun cropping systems and high contents used for agroforestry systems.
Keywords: Coffea arabica L.; adaptive response; biomarkers; full-sun conditions; light response; phenolic compounds.