Photosynthesis in Fluctuating Light Environments

  • Robert W. Pearcy
  • John P. Krall
  • Gretchen F. Sassenrath-Cole
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 5)


The light environment in plant canopies is characterized by rapid fluctuations in photon flux density (PFD) because of the occurrence of sunflecks. These sunflecks can contribute most of the PFD available for photosynthesis and thus the mechanisms that control their utilization can have a significant impact on the carbon gain within canopies or in understories. When sunflecks are infrequent, their utilization is constrained by the induction requirement of the photosynthetic apparatus. The induction requirement has been shown to involve three separate factors consisting of an increase in the capacity for regeneration of ribulose bisphosphate that is important in the first 1–2 min after a light increase, the light activation of ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase that occurs over the first 5–10 min of induction, and an increase in stomatal conductance. Under the conditions of multiple sunflecks occurring in varying succession characteristic of canopy light regimes, the induction state of a leaf is a function of the up and down regulation of these three factors. The induction state determines the readiness of a leaf to respond to a sunfleck in terms of the maximum assimilation rate that can be achieved during it. Post-lightfleck CO2 assimilation occurring because of the utilization of high-energy metabolite pools built up during the lightfleck can substantially enhance the utilization of short lightflecks. This buildup occurs because of a transient uncoupling of electron transport and carbon assimilation rates as 3-phosphoglyceric acid pools are reduced allowing for initially elevated electron transport rates during a lightfleck. Simulation modeling and measurements have shown that under natural sunfleck regimes in forest understories the induction state of leaves may limit daily assimilation by 10 to 25%. Post-lightfleck CO2 fixation, on the other hand, does not significantly enhance sunfleck use in this environment because the short sunflecks for which it is most important make little contribution to the available sunfleck PFD. Within crop canopies, where the contribution of short-duration sunflecks is much greater, simulation modeling indicates a more important role forpost-lightfleck CO2 fixation.


Assimilation Rate Electron Transport Rate Induction State Carbon Gain Forest Understory 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert W. Pearcy
    • 1
  • John P. Krall
    • 1
  • Gretchen F. Sassenrath-Cole
    • 2
  1. 1.Section of Plant BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.USDA-ARS Crop Simulation Research UnitDepartment of Plant and Soil ScienceMississippi StateUSA

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