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Tree Physiol. 2001 Oct;21(16):1195-204.

Age-related changes in foliar morphology and physiology in red spruce and their influence on declining photosynthetic rates and productivity with tree age.

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  • 1Department of Forest Ecosystem Science, 5755 Nutting Hall, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5755, USA.


The contribution of changes in meristem behavior to age-related decline in forest productivity is poorly understood. We studied age-related trends in needle morphology and gas exchange in a population of red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) growing in a multi-cohort stand where trees ranged from first-year germinants to trees over 150 years old, as well as in grafted scions from these trees. In the field study, age-related trends in foliar morphology were determined in six cohorts ranging in age from 2 to 120 years, and differences in gas exchange characteristics were compared between 60- and 120-year age classes. In a common-rootstock study, scions from trees representing 20-, 60-, and 120-year cohorts were grafted onto juvenile rootstock and maintained for three growing seasons, after which morphological and physiological foliar attributes were evaluated. The field study revealed significant age-related trends in foliar morphology, including decreasing specific leaf area, and increasing needle width, projected area, and width/length ratio. Similar trends were apparent in foliage from the grafted scions. Both in situ foliage and shoots of grafted scions from the oldest cohort showed significantly lower photosynthetic rates than their counterparts from younger trees; however, differences in stomatal conductance and internal CO(2) concentrations were not significant. These results suggest that: (1) foliage of red spruce exhibits age-related trends in both morphology and physiology; (2) age-related decreases in photosynthetic rates contribute to declining productivity in old red spruce; (3) declines in photosynthetic rates result from nonstomatal limitations; and (4) age-related changes in morphology and physiology are inherent in meristems and persist for at least 3 years in scions grafted to juvenile rootstock.

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