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Oecologia. 2008 Mar;155(3):455-67. doi: 10.1007/s00442-007-0936-3. Epub 2008 Jan 22.

Adaptive radiation of photosynthetic physiology in the Hawaiian lobeliads: dynamic photosynthetic responses.

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  • 1Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN, 55108, USA.


Hawaiian lobeliads have radiated into habitats from open alpine bogs to densely shaded rainforest interiors, and show corresponding adaptations in steady-state photosynthetic light responses and associated leaf traits. Shaded environments are not uniformly dark, however, but punctuated by sunflecks that carry most of the photosynthetically active light that strikes plants. We asked whether lobeliads have diversified in their dynamic photosynthetic light responses and how dynamic responses influence daily leaf carbon gain. We quantified gas exchange and dynamic light regimes under field conditions for ten species representing each major Hawaiian sublineage. Species in shadier habitats experienced shorter and less numerous sunflecks: average sunfleck length varied from 1.4 +/- 1.7 min for Cyanea floribunda in shaded forest understories to 31.2 +/- 2.1 min for Trematolobelia kauaiensis on open ridges. As expected, the rate of photosynthetic induction increased significantly toward shadier sites, with assimilation after 60 s rising from ca. 30% of fully induced rates in species from open environments to 60% in those from densely shaded habitats. Uninduced light use efficiency-actual photosynthesis versus that expected under steady-state conditions-increased from 10 to 70% across the same gradient. In silico transplants-modeling daily carbon gain using one species' photosynthetic light response in its own and other species' dynamic light regimes-demonstrated the potential adaptive nature of species differences: understory Cyanea pilosa in its light regimes outperformed gap-dwelling Clermontia parviflora, while Clermontia in its light regimes outperformed Cyanea. The apparent crossover in daily photosynthesis occurred at about the same photon flux density where dominance shifts from Cyanea to Clermontia in the field. Our results further support our hypothesis that the lobeliads have diversified physiologically across light environments in Hawaiian ecosystems and that those shifts appear to maximize the carbon gain of each species in its own environment.

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