, Volume 145, Issue 2, pp 251-256
Date: 16 Jul 2005

Ecophysiological responses to light availability in three Blechnum species (Pteridophyta, Blechnaceae) of different ecological breadth

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In Chilean evergreen temperate forest, fern species of the genus Blechnum occur in diverse microhabitats ranging from large gaps to heavily shaded understoreys. We hypothesised that differences in the ecological breadth of three co-occurring Blechnum species would be associated with differences in magnitude of ecophysiological responses to light availability. We quantified the field distribution of each species in relation to diffuse light availability (% canopy openness), and measured in situ variation in photosynthetic capacity (A), dark respiration (R d) and specific leaf area (SLA) across the light gradient. The response of SLA of each species was also evaluated in a common garden in two light conditions (understorey and forest edge). The three Blechnum species differed significantly in the range of light environments occupied (breadth: B. chilense > B. hastatum > B. mochaenum). Despite significant interspecific differences in average A and R d, the response of these traits to light availability did not differ among species. However, there was significant interspecific variation in both the mean value and the plasticity of SLA to light availability, the species with least ecological breadth (B. mochaenum) showing a flatter reaction norm (lower response) than its two congeners. This pattern was also found in the common garden experiment. The adjustment of leaf morphology (SLA) to light availability appears to be an important mechanism of acclimation in these Blechnum species. The narrow range of light environments occupied by B. mochaenum may be at least partly attributable to its inability to display phenotypic plasticity in SLA to changes in light availability.

Communicated by Robert Pearcy