Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 123, Issue 2, pp 141–155 | Cite as

Canopy light heterogeneity drives leaf anatomical, eco-physiological, and photosynthetic changes in olive trees grown in a high-density plantation

  • Ajmi Larbi
  • Saúl Vázquez
  • Hamdi El-Jendoubi
  • Monji Msallem
  • Javier Abadía
  • Anunciación Abadía
  • Fermín MoralesEmail author
Regular Paper


In the field, leaves may face very different light intensities within the tree canopy. Leaves usually respond with light-induced morphological and photosynthetic changes, in a phenomenon known as phenotypic plasticity. Canopy light distribution, leaf anatomy, gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, and pigment composition were investigated in an olive (Olea europaea, cvs. Arbequina and Arbosana) orchard planted with a high-density system (1,250 trees ha−1). Sampling was made from three canopy zones: a lower canopy (<1 m), a central one (1–2 m), and an upper one (>2 m). Light interception decreased significantly in the lower canopy when compared to the central and top ones. Leaf angle increased and photosynthetic rates and non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) decreased significantly and progressively from the upper canopy to the central and the lower canopies. The largest leaf areas were found in the lower canopy, especially in the cultivar Arbequina. The palisade and spongy parenchyma were reduced in thickness in the lower canopy when compared to the upper one, in the former due to a decrease in the number of cell layers from three to two (clearly distinguishable in the light and fluorescence microscopy images). In both cultivars, the concentration of violaxanthin-cycle pigments and β-carotene was higher in the upper than in the lower canopy. Furthermore, the de-epoxidized forms zeaxanthin and antheraxanthin increased significantly in those leaves from the upper canopy, in parallel to the NPQ increases. In conclusion, olive leaves react with morphological and photosynthetic changes to within-crown light gradients. These results strengthen the idea of olive trees as “modular organisms” that adjust the modules morphology and physiology in response to light intensity.


Canopy light distribution High-density olive orchards Leaf anatomy Leaf phenotypic plasticity Photosynthesis 



This work was supported by the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation for Development (AECID) Project AP/040397/11 and the Aragón Government (A03 Research Group).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ajmi Larbi
    • 1
  • Saúl Vázquez
    • 2
  • Hamdi El-Jendoubi
    • 2
  • Monji Msallem
    • 1
  • Javier Abadía
    • 2
  • Anunciación Abadía
    • 2
  • Fermín Morales
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Institut de l’OlivierTunisTunisia
  2. 2.Department of Plant Nutrition, Aula Dei Experimental StationCSICZaragozaSpain

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