Photosynthetic acclimation of the liana Stigmaphyllon lindenianum to light changes in a tropical dry forest canopy


G Avalos
S Mulkey

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Tropical plant canopies show abrupt changes in light conditions across small differences in spatial and temporal scales. Given the canopy light heterogeneity, plants in this stratum should express a high degree of plasticity, both in space (allocation to plant modules as a function of opportunity for resource access) and time (photosynthetic adjustment to temporal changes in the local environment). Using a construction crane for canopy access, we studied light acclimation of the liana Stigmaphyllon lindenianum to sun and shade environments in a tropical dry forest in Panama during the wet season. Measured branches were randomly distributed in one of four light sequences: high- to low-light branches started the experiment under sun and were transferred to shade during the second part of the experiment; low-to high-light branches (LH) were exposed to the opposite sequence of light treatments; and highlight and low-light controls, which were exposed only to sun and shade environments, respectively, throughout the experiment. Shade branches were set inside enclosures wrapped in 63% greenhouse shade cloth. After 2 months, we transferred experimental branches to opposite light conditions by relocating the enclosures. Leaf mortality was considerably higher under shade, both before and after the transfer. LH branches reversed the pattern of mortality by increasing new leaf production after the transfer. Rates of photosynthesis at light saturation, light compensation points, and dark respiration rates of transferred branches matched those of controls for the new light treatment, indicating rapid photochemical acclimation. The post-expansion acclimation of sun and shade foliage occurred with little modification of leaf structure. High photosynthetic plasticity was reflected in an almost immediate ability to respond to significant changes in light. This response did not depend on the initial light environment, but was determined by exposure to new light conditions. Stigmaphyllon responded rapidly to light changes through the functional adjustment of already expanded foliage and an increase in leaf production in places with high opportunity for carbon gain.