, Volume 174, Issue 1, pp 13–22 | Cite as

Trade-offs between light interception and leaf water shedding: a comparison of shade- and sun-adapted species in a subtropical rainforest

  • Fengqun Meng
  • Rui Cao
  • Dongmei Yang
  • Karl J. Niklas
  • Shucun SunEmail author
Physiological ecology - Original research


Species in high-rainfall regions have two major alternative approaches to quickly drain off water, i.e., increasing leaf inclination angles relative to the horizontal plane, or developing long leaf drip tips. We hypothesized that shade-adapted species will have more pronounced leaf drip tips but not greater inclination angles (which can reduce the ability to intercept light) compared to sun-adapted species and that length of leaf drip tips will be negatively correlated with photosynthetic capacity [characterized by light-saturated net photosynthetic rates (A max), associated light compensation points (LCP), and light saturation points (LSP)]. We tested this hypothesis by measuring morphological and physiological traits that are associated with light-interception and water shedding for seven shade-adapted shrub species, ten sun-adapted understory shrub species, and 15 sun-adapted tree species in a subtropical Chinese rainforest, where mean annual precipitation is around 1,600 mm. Shade-adapted understory species had lower LMA, A max, LSP, and LCP compared to understory or canopy sun-adapted species; their leaf and twig inclination angles were significantly smaller and leaf drip tips were significantly longer than those in sun-adapted species. This suggests that shade-adapted understory species tend to develop pronounced leaf drip tips but not large leaf inclination angles to shed water. The length of leaf drip tips was negatively correlated with leaf inclination angles and photosynthetic capacity. These relationships were consistent between ordinary regression and phylogenetic generalized least squares analyses. Our study illustrates the trade-offs between light interception and leaf water shedding and indicates that length of leaf drip tips can be used as an indicator of adaptation to shady conditions and overall photosynthetic performance of shrub species in subtropical rainforests.


Shade-adapted species Sun-adapted species Life history tradeoff Leaf drip tip Photosynthetic capacity Leaf mass per area Light saturation point Comparative ecology 



We thank Zhuoyao Dong, Xincheng Li, Jianqiang Tang, Yangjie Xia for field assistance and the staff of Tiantong National Forest Park for permitting this study to be conducted. This study was funded by the National Science Foundation of China (31170382) and PCSIRT (IRT1020).

Supplementary material

442_2013_2746_MOESM1_ESM.doc (78 kb)
Supplementary material (DOC 78 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fengqun Meng
    • 1
  • Rui Cao
    • 1
  • Dongmei Yang
    • 2
  • Karl J. Niklas
    • 3
  • Shucun Sun
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of BiologyNanjing UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.College of Chemistry and Life SciencesZhejiang Normal UniversityJinhuaChina
  3. 3.Department of Plant BiologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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