, Volume 63, Issue 2, pp 215-224

Photosynthetic responses to light in seedlings of selected Amazonian and Australian rainforest tree species

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Seedlings of the Caesalpinoids Hymenaea courbaril, H. parvifolia and Copaifera venezuelana, emergent trees of Amazonian rainforest canopies, and of the Araucarian conifers Agathis microstachya and A. robusta, important elements in tropical Australian rainforests, were grown at 6% (shade) and 100% full sunlight (sun) in glasshouses. All species produced more leaves in full sunlight than in shade and leaves of sun plants contained more nitrogen and less chlorophyll per unit leaf area, and had a higher specific leaf weight than leaves of shade plants. The photosynthetic response curves as a function of photon flux density for leaves of shade-grown seedlings showed lower compensation points, higher quantum yields and lower respiration rates per unit leaf area than those of sun-grown seedlings. However, except for A. robusta, photosynthetic acclimation between sun and shade was not observed; the light saturated rates of assimilation were not significantly different. Intercellular CO2 partial pressure was similar in leaves of sun and shade-grown plants, and assimilation was limited more by intrinsic mesophyll factors than by stomata. Comparison of assimilation as a function of intercellular CO2 partial pressure in sun- and shade-grown Agathis spp. showed a higher initial slope in leaves of sun plants, which was correlated with higher leaf nitrogen content. Assimilation was reduced at high transpiration rates and substantial photoinhibition was observed when seedlings were transferred from shade to sun. However, after transfer, newly formed leaves in A. robusta showed the same light responses as leaves of sun-grown seedlings. These observations on the limited potential for acclimation to high light in leaves of seedlings of rainforest trees are discussed in relation to regeneration following formation of gaps in the canopy.