, Volume 153, Issue 2, pp 209-223
Date: 24 Apr 2007

Physiological and morphological correlates of whole-plant light compensation point in temperate deciduous tree seedlings

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Abstract

A range of traits, including metabolic costs, biomass allocation and seed reserves, may contribute to interspecific variation in the shade tolerance of tree seedlings. In addition, shade tolerance may be affected by differential responses of species to soil resource availability at low light. We used a custom-built whole-plant gas-exchange chamber to quantify instantaneous whole-plant light compensation point (WPLCP) and to parameterize whole-plant daily C gain models for seedlings of eight temperate deciduous tree species. We examined the relationship of WPLCP to growth, biomass allocation and gas-exchange under high and low light and nutrient availabilities and compared it to WPCLP of naturally recruited saplings. For species showing a response, both increased light and nutrient availability resulted in increased WPLCP. However, species’ responses to resource availability did not correspond closely with shade tolerance as has generally been predicted. Variation in WPLCP within species was best predicted by whole-plant dark respiration rates, leaf-level light compensation point and leaf mass per area. Among species, seed size was a strong negative correlate of WPLCP, explaining 66% of the variation. Species with the lowest WPLCP maintained lower growth rates across treatments but greater biomass in the low-light treatment compared with more light-demanding species. These data suggest that a number of traits, in particular metabolic costs and seed size, contribute to WPLCP. However, gas-exchange-based WPLCP was 1.5–3.5 times lower than corresponding growth-based field estimates of WPLCP, suggesting that other factors such as biotic interactions or ontogenetic shifts in whole-plant light requirements may substantially increase species’ WPLCP under natural conditions.

Communicated by Robert Pearcy.