Plant and Soil

, Volume 367, Issue 1–2, pp 163–182 | Cite as

Light inhibition of leaf respiration as soil fertility declines along a post-glacial chronosequence in New Zealand: an analysis using the Kok method

  • Owen K. AtkinEmail author
  • Matthew H. Turnbull
  • Joana Zaragoza-Castells
  • Nikolaos M. Fyllas
  • Jon Lloyd
  • Patrick Meir
  • Kevin L. Griffin
Regular Article


Background and aims

Our study quantified variations leaf respiration in darkness (R D) and light (R L), and associated traits along the Franz Josef Glacier soil development chronosequence in New Zealand.


At six sites along the chronosequence (soil age: 6, 60, 150, 500, 12,000 and 120,000 years old), we measured rates of leaf R D, R L (using Kok method), light-saturated CO2 assimilation rates (A), leaf mass per unit area (M A), and concentrations of leaf nitrogen ([N]), phosphorus ([P]), soluble sugars and starch.


The chronosequence was characterised by decreasing R D, R L and A, reduced [N] and [P] and increasing M A as soil age increased. Light inhibition of R occurred across the chronosequence (mean inhibition = 16 %), resulting in ratios of R L:A being lower than for R D:A. Importantly, the degree of light inhibition differed across the chronosequence, being lowest at young sites and highest at old sites. This resulted in R L:A ratios being relatively constant across the chronosequence, whereas R D:A ratios increased with increasing soil age. Log-log R-A-M A-[N] relationships remained constant along the chronosequence. By contrast, relationships linking rates of leaf R to [P] differed among leaves with low vs high [N]:[P] ratios. Slopes of log-log bivariate relationships linking R L to A, M A, [N] and [P] were steeper than that for R D.


Our findings have important implications for predictive models that seek to account for light inhibition of R, and for our understanding of how environmental gradients impact on leaf trait relationships


Leaf functional traits Leaf respiration Light Leaf mass per unit area Nitrogen Phosphorus Photosynthesis Plasticity Soil development chronosequence 



This work was funded by grants from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in the UK (NE/D01168X/1 and NE/F002149/1) and the Australian Research Council (ARC FT0991448 and DP0986823). The expert technical assistance of Mr David Sherlock and Ms Stephanie McCaffery is gratefully acknowledged.

Supplementary material

11104_2013_1686_MOESM1_ESM.doc (2.3 mb)
ESM 1 (DOC 2306 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Owen K. Atkin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew H. Turnbull
    • 2
  • Joana Zaragoza-Castells
    • 3
  • Nikolaos M. Fyllas
    • 4
    • 5
  • Jon Lloyd
    • 4
    • 6
  • Patrick Meir
    • 1
    • 3
  • Kevin L. Griffin
    • 7
  1. 1.Division of Plant Sciences, Research School of Biology, Building 46The Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  3. 3.School of GeosciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  4. 4.School of Geography, Earth and Biosphere InstituteUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK
  5. 5.Department of Ecology & Systematics, Faculty of BiologyUniversity of AthensAthensGreece
  6. 6.School of Earth and Environmental ScienceJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia
  7. 7.Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia UniversityPalisadesUSA

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