, Volume 25, Issue 5, pp 833-845

Modeling the influence of differential sectoriality on the photosynthetic responses of understory saplings to patchy light and water availability

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Abstract

Exploitation of patchy light is a key determinant of plant performance in the forest understory. While many adaptive traits are known, the role of stem vasculature in understory photosynthesis is not established. Sectoriality—the degree of vascular constraint to long distance transport—has been hypothesized to limit growth in heterogeneous light. We simulated the photosynthetic potential of sectored and integrated plants in patchy light, as a function of soil water potential (patchy or uniform). We used hydraulic parameters typical of temperate woody species in an Ohm’s law model including a tangential resistance parameter, and simulated cavitation by varying axial resistance of leaves, leaves and roots, or the whole plant. Our results suggest that differential sectoriality will not affect photosynthesis when water is plentiful, but can constrain stomatal conductance at more negative soil water potentials, especially when only a small portion of the crown receives light. This effect is strongest just below the turgor loss point, and depends on axial resistance and soil water heterogeneity. Increased resistance in high light leaves decreases photosynthesis regardless of sectoriality. However, when resistance is increased for leaves and roots or the whole plant, photosynthesis decreases more for sectored than for integrated plants. Moreover, the simulations suggest that sectoriality can further depress photosynthesis when water availability is asymmetrical. These results might explain why integrated species, such as Betula lenta, B. alleghaniensis, and Acer saccharum thrive in the forest understory and grow rapidly into canopy gaps, while sectored species, such as Quercus rubra, do not.

Communicated by M. Zwieniecki.