Facing Shortage or Excessive Light: How Tropical and Subtropical Trees Adjust Their Photosynthetic Behavior and Life History Traits to a Dynamic Forest Environment

  • Guillermo GoldsteinEmail author
  • Louis S. Santiago
  • Paula I. Campanello
  • Gerardo Avalos
  • Yong-Jiang Zhang
  • Mariana Villagra
Part of the Tree Physiology book series (TREE, volume 6)


Light is critical for plant establishment, growth, and survival in wet tropical forests. The objective of this chapter is to analyze paradigms of photosynthetic performance and life history traits of tropical forest trees to contrasting light environments across the forest floor, gaps and upper canopy. Physiological and morphological plasticity as well as genetically fixed adaptive traits are analyzed, including leaf optical properties and photoprotection from high irradiance. Photosynthetic adaptations to contrasting light environments of closely related species are discussed. This approach has the advantage among comparative studies of adaptations across species in that genetic relationships among species are known. Species-specific variations in maximum photosynthetic rates, which reflect the degree of adaptation to growth irradiance, are shown to be gradual, suggesting that classification into two distinct functional groups in terms of light requirements is somewhat arbitrary. Trees growing in gaps or in the upper canopy rely strongly on biochemical mechanisms to dissipate excess energy and to avoid damage to the light reaction centers and photosystems. Consistent with their high photosynthetic capacity, light demanding species are capable of plastic changes in hydraulic architecture , such as increases in hydraulic conductivity under high irradiance, which makes them more competitive in open habitats.


Electron transport rate Hydraulic architecture Leaf pigments Photoinhibition Photosynthesis Plasticity Shade tolerant trees 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Guillermo Goldstein
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Louis S. Santiago
    • 3
    • 4
  • Paula I. Campanello
    • 5
  • Gerardo Avalos
    • 6
    • 7
  • Yong-Jiang Zhang
    • 8
  • Mariana Villagra
    • 5
  1. 1.Laboratorio de Ecología Funcional, Departamento de Ecología Genética y Evolución, Instituto IEGEBA (CONICET-UBA), Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y naturalesUniversidad de Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Botany & Plant SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA
  4. 4.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaRepublic of Panama
  5. 5.Laboratorio de Ecología Forestal y Ecofisiología, Instituto de Biología Subtropical, CONICET, FCFUniversidad Nacional de MisionesPosadasArgentina
  6. 6.Escuela de BiologíaUniversidad de Costa RicaSan Pedro, San JoséCosta Rica
  7. 7.The School for Field Studies, Center for Sustainable Development StudiesBeverlyUSA
  8. 8.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyCambridgeUSA

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