Journal Article

Acclimation to low irradiance in <i>Picea abies</i>: influences of past and present light climate on foliage structure and function

Ülo Niinemets

in Tree Physiology

Volume 17, issue 11, pages 723-732
Published in print November 1997 | ISSN: 0829-318X
Published online November 1997 | e-ISSN: 1758-4469 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/treephys/17.11.723
Acclimation to low irradiance in Picea abies: influences of past and present light climate on foliage structure and function

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Leaf retention time increases with decreasing irradiance, providing an effective way of amortizing the costs of foliage construction over time. To elucidate the physiological mechanisms underlying this dependence, I studied needle life span, morphology, and concentrations of carbon, nitrogen and nonstructural carbohydrates along a gradient of relative irradiance in understory trees of Picea abies (L.) Karst. Maximum needle life span was greater in shaded trees than in sun-exposed trees. However, irrespective of irradiance, needles with maximum longevity were situated in the middle rather than the bottom of the canopy, suggesting that needle life span is determined by the irradiance to which needles are exposed during their primary growth. Morphology and chemistry of current-year needles were adapted to prevailing light conditions. Current-year needles exposed to high irradiances had greater packing of foliar biomass per unit area than shaded needles, whereas shaded needles maximized foliar area to capture more light. Nitrogen concentrations were higher in shaded needles than in sun-exposed needles. This nitrogen distribution pattern was related to the high nitrogen cost of light interception and was assumed to improve light absorptance per needle mass of shaded needles. In contrast, in both 1- and 2-year-old needles, morphology was independent of prevailing light conditions; however, needle nitrogen concentrations were adjusted toward more effective light interception in 2-year-old foliage but not in 1-year-old foliage, indicating that acclimation of sun-adapted needles to shading takes more than one year. At the same time, needle aging was accompanied by accumulation of nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC), and increasing concentrations of needle carbon, suggesting a shift in the balance between photosynthesis and photosynthate export. The accumulation of NSC and carbon resulted in a dilution of the concentrations of other needle chemicals and explained the decline in needle nitrogen concentrations with increasing age. Thus, although morphological inadequacy to low light availabilities may partly be compensated for by modifications in needle chemistry, age-related changes in needle stoichiometric composition progressively lessen the potential for acclimation to low irradiance. A conceptual model, advanced to explain how environmental factors and age-related changes in the activities of needle xylem and phloem transport affect needle longevity, predicted that adaptation of needle morphology to irradiance during the primary growth period largely determines the fate of needles during subsequent tree growth and development.

Keywords: aging; carbon balance; needle longevity; needle morphology; nitrogen content; nonstructural carbohydrates; Norway spruce; shade tolerance

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Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry

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