Long-term physiological and morphological acclimation by the evergreen shrub Buxus sempervirens L. to understory and canopy gap light intensities
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- Letts, M.G., Rodríguez-Calcerrada, J., Rolo, V. et al. Trees (2012) 26: 479. doi:10.1007/s00468-011-0609-z
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Physiological and morphological plasticity are essential for growth and reproduction in contrasting light environments. In dry forest ecosystems, light generalists must also cope with the trade-offs involved in synchronous acclimation to light availability and drought. To understand how the broadleaf evergreen tree-shrub Buxus sempervirens L. (common box) inhabits both understory and successional terrain of Mediterranean forest, we measured photosynthesis–fluorescence light response, morphological traits and architectural characteristics across a light gradient. Our results show that B. sempervirens exhibits stress resistance syndrome, with little change in net photosynthesis rate across a light availability gradient, due to compensatory physiological and morphological acclimation. Light energy processing and dissipation potential were highest in leaves of well-illuminated plants, with higher electron transport rate, fraction of open photosystem II reaction centres, non-photochemical quenching, photorespiration and dark respiration. In contrast, traits reducing light capture efficiency were observed in high light shrubs, including higher leaf mass per unit area, leaf clumping, leaf inclination and branch inclination. We suggest that both physiological and morphological plasticity are required for B. sempervirens to survive across a light gradient in a dry forest ecosystem, while exhibiting homoeostasis in photosynthetic gas exchange. We further speculate that the low growth rate of B. sempervirens is effective in full sun only due to a lack of competition in low resource microsites.