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Dependence of needle architecture and chemical composition on canopy light availability in three North American Pinus species with contrasting needle length

Dependence of needle architecture and chemical composition on canopy light availability in three North American Pinus species with contrasting needle length

Tree physiology 22(11): 747-761

ISSN/ISBN: 0829-318X

PMID: 12184979

DOI: 10.1093/treephys/22.11.747

Morphology and chemical composition of needles of shade-intolerant southern conifers (Pinus palustris Mill. (mean needle length +/- SD = 29.1 +/- 4.1 cm), P. taeda L. (12.3 +/- 2.9 cm) and P. virginiana Mill. (5.1 +/- 0.8 cm)) were studied to test the hypothesis that foliage acclimation potential to canopy light gradients is generally low for shade-intolerant species, and in particular, because of mechanical limitations, in species with longer needles. Plasticity for each needle variable was defined as the slope of the foliar characteristic versus irradiance relationship. A novel geometrical model for needle area and volume calculation was employed for the three-needled species P. palustris and P. taeda. Needle thickness (T) strongly increased, but width (W) was less variable with increasing daily integrated quantum flux density averaged over the season (Q(int)), resulting in changes in cross-sectional needle shape that were manifested in a positive relationship between the total to projected needle area ratio (A(T)/A(P)) and Q(int) in the three-needled species. In contrast, cross-sectional needle geometry was only slightly modified by irradiance in the two-needled conifer P. virginiana. Needle dry mass per unit total needle area (M(T)) was positively related to Q(int) in all species, leading to greater foliar nitrogen contents per unit area at higher irradiances. Separate examination of the components of M(T) (density (D) and the volume (V) to A(T) ratio; M(T) = DV/A(T)) indicated that the positive effect of light on M(T) resulted solely from increases in V/A(T), i.e., from increases in the thickness of foliage elements. Foliar chlorophyll content per unit mass increased with increasing Q(int), allowing an improvement in light-harvesting efficiency in low light. The variables characterizing needle material properties (D, the dry to fresh mass ratio, and needle carbon content per unit mass) were generally independent of Q(int), suggesting that needles were less stiff and had greater tip deflections under their own weight at lower irradiances because of smaller W and T. Comparisons with the literature revealed that plasticity in foliar characteristics tended to be lower in the studied shade- intolerant species than in shade-tolerant conifers, but plasticity among the investigated species was unaffected by needle length. However, we argue that, because of mechanical limitations, plastic changes in needle cross section in response to low irradiance may decrease rather than increase light-interception efficiency in long-needled species.

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Accession: 003702957

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