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Tree Physiol. 2011 Oct;31(10):1128-41. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tpr094.

Tree size and light availability increase photochemical instead of non-photochemical capacities of Nothofagus nitida trees growing in an evergreen temperate rain forest.

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  • 1Forest Ecophysiology Laboratory, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales y Recursos Naturales, Universidad Austral de Chile, Independencia 641, Casilla 567, Valdivia, Chile.


Nothofagus nitida (Phil.) Krasser (Nothofagaceae) regenerates under the canopy in microsites protected from high light. Nonetheless, it is common to find older saplings in clear areas and adults as emergent trees of the Chilean evergreen forest. We hypothesized that this shade to sun transition in N. nitida is supported by an increase in photochemical and non-photochemical energy dissipation capacities of both photosystems in parallel with the increase in plant size and light availability. To dissect the relative contribution of light environment and plant developmental stage to these physiological responses, the photosynthetic performance of both photosystems was studied from the morpho-anatomical to the biochemical level in current-year leaves of N. nitida plants of different heights (ranging from 0.1 to 7 m) growing under contrasting light environments (integrated quantum flux (IQF) 5-40 mol m(-2). Tree height (TH) and light environment (IQF) independently increased the saturated electron transport rates of both photosystems, as well as leaf and palisade thickness, but non-photochemical energy flux, photoinhibition susceptibility, state transition capacity, and the contents of D1 and PsbS proteins were not affected by IQF and TH. Spongy mesophyll thickness and palisade cell diameter decreased with IQF and TH. A(max), light compensation and saturation points, Rubisco and nitrogen content (area basis) only increased with light environment (IQF), whereas dark respiration (R(d)) decreased slightly and relative chlorophyll content was higher in taller trees. Overall, the independent effects of more illuminated environment and tree height mainly increased the photochemical instead of the non-photochemical energy flux. Regardless of the photochemical increase with TH, carbon assimilation only significantly improved with higher IQF. Therefore it seems that mainly acclimation to the light environment supports the phenotypic transition of N. nitida from shade to sun.

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