Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology

Growth and Photosynthetic Response to Light and Nutrients of Flindersia brayleyana F. Muell., A Rainforest Tree With Broad Tolerance to Sun and Shade

WA Thompson, GC Stocker and PE Kriedemann

Australian Journal of Plant Physiology 15(2) 299 - 315
Published: 1988


Seed from four species of rainforest trees with widely contrasting sunlight requirements for growth and development were sown within disturbance gaps amidst mature forest on the Herberton Range in North Queensland. Observations on seedling persistence plus comparative growth of young trees of Acacia aulacocarpa, Toona australis, Flindersia brayleyana and Darlingia darlingiana (species ranked according to adaptation from full sun to deep shade) confirmed a broad tolerance of Flindersia to sunlight under all conditions, from wide to narrow gaps (minimum 0.6% full sun equivalent).

Photosynthetic attributes which underlie such broad tolerance were subsequently inferred from single leaf gas exchange, plus foliar analyses of nitrogen, phosphorus and chlorophyll on tree seedlings held for 180 days under two nutrient × three irradiance levels adjusted to represent natural irradiance incident upon the forest floor (low), mid-canopy (medium) and emergent crowns (high irradiance treatment). Medium irradiance plus high nutrients proved optimal for leaf expansion, chlorophyll content and photosynthesis in air.

Growth under low irradiance was characterised by thinner leaf palisade tissue, lower rates of dark respiration, increased leaf chlorophyll per unit nitrogen and lower light compensation point for photosynthesis. Such leaves retained a relatively high photosynthetic capacity despite these other shade-leaf attributes.

High irradiance plus low nutrients proved supraoptimal for leaf expansion and expression of photosynthetic activity. Chronic photoinhibition appeared to prevail because apparent quantum yield was reduced, while photosynthetic processes on a nitrogen basis were substantially impaired. Nitrogen use efficiency, as inferred from leaf chlorophyll content, light saturated CO2 assimilation rate, electron transport rate and carboxylation rate on a nitrogen basis declined with increasing growth irradiance.

Some ecological implications for the establishment and growth of these rainforest tree species in disturbance gaps are discussed.

© CSIRO 1988

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