The Ratio of Leaf to Total Photosynthetic Area Influences Shade Survival and Plastic Response to Light of Green‐stemmed Leguminous Shrub Seedlings

Fernando Valladares, Libertad Garcia Hernández, Iker Dobarro, Rubén Sanz, Francisco I Pugnaire

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Different plant species and organs within a plant differ in their plastic response to light. These responses influence their performance and survival in relation to the light environment, which may range from full sunlight to deep shade. Plasticity, especially with regard to physiological features, is linked to a greater capacity to exploit high light and is usually low in shade‐tolerant species. Among photosynthetic organs, green stems, which represent a large fraction of the total photosynthetic area of certain species, are hypothesized to be less capable of adjustment to light than leaves, because of biomechanical and hydraulic constraints. The response to light by leaves and stems of six species of leguminous, green‐stemmed shrubs from dry and high‐light environments was studied by growing seedlings in three light environments: deep shade, moderate shade and sun (3, 30 and 100 % of full sunlight, respectively). Survival in deep shade ranged from 2 % in Retama sphaerocarpa to 74 % in Ulex europaeus. Survival was maximal at moderate shade in all species, ranging from 80 to 98 %. The six species differed significantly in their ratio of leaf to total photosynthetic area, which influenced their light response. Survival in deep shade increased significantly with increasing ratio of leaf to total photosynthetic area, and decreased with increasing plasticity in net photosynthesis and dark respiration. Responses to light differed between stems and leaves within each species. Mean phenotypic plasticity for the variables leaf or stem specific mass, chlorophyll content, chlorophyll a/b ratio, and carotenoid to chlorophyll ratio of leaves, was inversely related to that of stems. Although mean plasticity of stems increased with the ratio of leaf to total photosynthetic area, the mean plasticity of leaves decreased. Shrubs with green stems and a low ratio of leaf to total photosynthetic area are expected to be restricted to well‐lit habitats, at least during the seedling stage, owing to their inefficient light capture and the low plasticity of their stems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577–584
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2002

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