Original Papers


, Volume 94, Issue 1, pp 49-56

First online:

Photosynthetic responses of Miconia species to canopy openings in a lowland tropical rainforest

  • Elizabeth A. NewellAffiliated withBiology Department, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  • , Evan P. McDonaldAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, Duke University
  • , Boyd R. StrainAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, Duke University
  • , Julie S. DenslowAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Tulane University

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We examined the photosynthetic acclimation of three tropical species of Miconia to canopy openings in a Costa Rican rainforest. The response of photosynthesis to canopy opening was very similar in Miconia affinis, M. gracilis, and M. nervosa, despite differences in growth form (trees and shrubs) and local distributions of plants (understory and gap). Four months after the canopy was opened by a treefall, photosynthetic capacity in all three species had approximately doubled from closed canopy levels. There were no obvious signs of high light damage after treefall but acclimation to the gap environment was not immediate. Two weeks after treefall, Amax, stomatal conductance, apprarent quantum efficiency, and dark respiration rates had not changed significantly from understory values. The production of new leaves appears to be an important component of light acclimation in these species. The only variables to differ significantly among species were stomatal conductance at Amax and the light level at which assimilation was saturated. M. affinis had a higher stomatal conductance which may reduce its water use efficiency in gap environments. Photosynthesis in the more shade-tolerant M. gracilis saturated at lower light levels than in the other two species. Individual plant light environments were assessed after treefall with canopy photography but they explained only a small fraction of plant variation in most measures of photosynthesis and growth. In conclusion, we speculate that species differences in local distribution and in light requirements for reproduction may be more strongly related to species differences in carbon allocation than in carbon assimilation.

Key words

Miconia Tropics Rainforest Photosynthetic acclimation Canopy gaps