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Protocols in ecological and environmental plant physiology


Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 33(5)

Reexamining the empirical relation between plant growth and leaf photosynthesis

Eric L. Kruger A C, John C. Volin B

A Department of Forest Ecology and Management, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1630 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706 USA.
B Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, 2912 College Avenue, Davie, FL 33314 USA.
C Corresponding author. Email: elkruger@wisc.edu
D This paper originates from a presentation of ECOFIZZ 2005, North Stradbroke Island, Queensland, Australia, November 2005.
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Technological advances during the past several decades have greatly enhanced our ability to measure leaf photosynthesis virtually anywhere and under any condition. Associated with the resulting proliferation of gas-exchange data is a lingering uncertainty regarding the importance of such measurements when it comes to explaining intrinsic causes of plant growth variation. Accordingly, in this paper we rely on a compilation of data to address the following questions: from both statistical and mechanistic standpoints, how closely does plant growth correlate with measures of leaf photosynthesis? Moreover, in this context, does the importance of leaf photosynthesis as an explanatory variable differ among growth light environments? Across a wide array of species and environments, relative growth rate (RGR) was positively correlated with daily integrals of photosynthesis expressed per unit leaf area (Aarea), leaf mass (Amass), and plant mass (Aplant). The amount of RGR variation explained by these relationships increased from 36% for the former to 93% for the latter. Notably, there was close agreement between observed RGR and that estimated from Aplant after adjustment for theoretical costs of tissue construction. Overall, based on an analysis of growth response coefficients (GRCs), gross assimilation rate (GAR), a photosynthesis-based estimate of biomass gain per unit leaf area, explained about as much growth variation as did leaf mass ratio (LMR) and specific leaf area (SLA). Further analysis of GRCs indicated that the importance of GAR in explaining growth variation increased with increasing light intensity. Clearly, when considered in combination with other key determinants, appropriate measures of leaf gas exchange effectively capture the fundamental role of leaf photosynthesis in plant growth variation.

Keywords: growth response coefficients, leaf area ratio, leaf mass ratio, net assimilation rate, relative growth rate, specific leaf area.

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