, Volume 76, Issue 2, pp 288-293

Morphological responses of Datura ferox L. seedlings to the presence of neighbours

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We studied the effects of density on the dynamics of seedling growth and canopy microclimate within experimental stands composed of Datura ferox L. seedlings grown in individual pots. Interception of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) by seedlings was evaluated either indirectly, by measuring leaf area, proportion of leaf area shaded by neighbouring individuals and laminar orientation with respect to sunlight, or directly, by measuring PAR at individual leaves at their natural angle of display. An integrating cylinder, with a geometry approximating that of a stem, was used within the canopies to measure the red:far-red (R:FR) ratio of the light flux from all compass points parallel to the soil surface. Seedlings responded rapidly (i.e. 1–2 weeks) to increased density by producing longer internodes and partitioning more dry matter to stems relative to leaves. These responses were observed before either PAR interception of growth rate were reduced by the presence of neighbours. Conversely, morphogenetic adjustment was preceded by a consistent effect of plant density on the R:FR ratio of the light received by the integrating cylinder. Air and soil temperature were not affected by density in these experiments. Differences in wind velocity within the canopy associated with plant density were avoided by the experimental procedure. The results support the idea that the drop in R:FR ratio of the light flux parallel to the ground — e.g. reflected sunlight — is an early signal that allows rapid adjustment of plant form to changes in canopy structure.