Responses to light changes in tropical deciduous woody seedlings with contrasting growth rates


We evaluated the responses in growth, biomass allocation, photosynthesis and stomatal conductance, to changes in light in woody seedlings from the tropical deciduous forest in Mexico, which shows a highly seasonal rain pattern. We studied ten species, which differed by 30-fold in relative growth rate (RGR). We analyzed plant growth in two contrasting light levels during 52 days and two transfers: from high to low (HL) and from low to high (LH) light intensity, and the respective controls in high (HH) and low (LL) light for another 52 days. The photosynthetic capacity (A max) and stomatal conductance were measured at the day of the transfer between light conditions and at the end of the experiment. Species with high RGR showed the largest changes in RGR in response to contrasting light conditions (HH/LL ratio), and species with low RGR showed low responses. The fast-growing species were the most plastic, followed by species with intermediate growth rates, with the slow-growing species being the least plastic. Fast-growing species achieved higher maximum photosynthetic capacities (A max) and stomatal conductance and higher response to light than slow-growing species. Species with high RGR showed a low RGR HH/LH ratio, suggesting a large response of L plants when transfered to H. The RGR of the species were associated with species specific leaf area and with the response in the leaf area, net assimilation rate and leaf weight ratio, suggesting the importance of the leaf area produced and the leaf characteristics rather than root:shoot ratio in determining RGR. Considering that seed germination is expected at the beginning of the rainy period, seedlings of most of the species will experience high-light conditions during its early growth. There are large annual variations in the time required for canopy closure (35–75 days). The influence of these variations may have different effect on the species studied. Species with intermediate growth rate and intermediate response to light changes were less affected by light reduction than fast-growing species. The intermediate-RGR species Caesalpiniaeriostachys is the most abundant and widely distributed species, perhaps this could be in part due to its ability to acclimate to both light increases and decreases. The fast-growing species studied here can be found in open sites in the forest and in areas cleared for pasture growth. These fast-growing species eventually reach the canopy, although this may require several canopy openings during their lives, which implies juvenile shade tolerance. In the tropical deciduous forest juvenile pioneer trees also benefit from the temporary high light available caused by the dry period during the rainy season. The slow-growing species Celaenodendronmexicanum forms small patches of monospecific forest; the adult trees are not completely deciduous, and they retain their old leaves for a long time period before shedding. Thus seedlings of this species may receive lower levels of light, in agreement with its shade tolerance and its lower response to light increases.

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Received: 14 April 1997 / Accepted: 29 July 1997

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Huante, P., Rincón, E. Responses to light changes in tropical deciduous woody seedlings with contrasting growth rates. Oecologia 113, 53–66 (1997) doi:10.1007/s004420050353

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  • Key words Tropical deciduous forest
  • Growth analysis
  • Biomass allocation
  • Light transfers
  • Plasticity