The dependence of net carbon gain during lightflecks (artificial sunflecks) on leaf induction state, lightfleck duration, lightfleck photosynthetic photon flux density (PFD), and the previous light environment were investigated in A. macrorrhiza and T. australis, two Australian rainforest species. The photosynthetic efficiency during lightflecks was also investigated by comparing observed values of carbon gain with predicted values based on steady-state CO2 assimilation rates. In both species, carbon gain and photosynthetic efficiency increased during a series of five 30-or 60-s lightflecks that followed a long period of low light; efficiency was linearly related to leaf induction state.
In fully-induced leaves of both species, efficiency decreased and carbon gain increased with lightfleck duration. Low-light grown A. macrorrhiza had greater efficiency than predicted based on steady-state rates (above 100%) for lightflecks less than 40 s long, whereas leaves grown in high light had efficiencies exceeding 100% only during 5-s lightflecks. The efficiency of leaves of T. australis ranged from 58% for 40-s lightflecks to 96% for 5-s lightflecks.
In low-light grown leaves of A. macrorrhiza, photosynthetic responses to lightflecks below 120 μmol m-2 s-1 were not affected significantly by the previous light level. However, during lightflecks at 530 μmol m-2 s-1, net carbon gain and photosynthetic efficiency of leaves previously exposed to low light levels were significantly reduced relative to those of leaves previously exposed to 120 and 530 μmol m-2 s-1.
These results indicate that, in shade-tolerant species, net carbon gain during sunflecks can be enhanced over values predicted from steady-state CO2 assimilation rates. The degree of enhancement, if any, will depend on sunfleck duration, previous light environment, and sunfleck PFD. In forest understory environments, the temporal pattern of light distribution may have far greater consequences for leaf carbon gain than the total integrated PFD.