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Influence of Light Level on the Growth and Morphology of Saplings in a Panamanian Forest

David A. King
American Journal of Botany
Vol. 81, No. 8 (Aug., 1994), pp. 948-957
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2445287
Page Count: 10
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Influence of Light Level on the Growth and Morphology of Saplings in a Panamanian Forest
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Abstract

Leaf spacing and aboveground growth were monitored in saplings of ten species in a range of light environments in a Panamanian lowland humid forest. One- to 2-m-tall individuals of the chosen species had intermediate to large leaves on stems with few or no branches. Saplings in high light environments grew faster in height and produced more biomass per unit leaf area than shaded saplings for all species. These growth responses involved morphological plasticity with greater extension per unit biomass increment increasing the height growth rate of gap-grown saplings and greater biomass allocation to leaves decreasing the whole plant light compensation point in shade. The relative performance of the species also varied across the light gradient and was related to differences in leaf lifespan and specific leaf mass. Light-demanding species grew as rapidly in shade as shade-tolerant species, but the shorter leaf lifespan of the former necessitates higher production rates to maintain a given leaf area, largely excluding light-demanders from shaded understory locations. Height growth rate was positively correlated with leaf spacing for each species, and differences between species in the height growth rate-internode length relationship were related to interspecific differences in specific leaf mass. Thus, sapling growth histories may be inferred from their morphologies.

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