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Oecologia. 2003 Oct;137(2):181-7. Epub 2003 Jul 15.

Functional correlates of leaf demographic response to gap release in saplings of a shade-tolerant tree, Elateriospermum tapos.

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  • 1Laboratory of Forest Ecology, Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, 606-8502 Kyoto, Japan.


For a shade-tolerant SE Asian tropical tree, Elateriospermum tapos (Euphorbiaceae), we studied field-established saplings in gaps and the shaded understory to test the hypothesis that differences in leaf demography and leaf life span under contrasting light regimes should be functionally correlated with architecture, self-shading and nitrogen distribution within the sapling crown. Rates of leaf production and net leaf gain were greater for saplings in gaps than those in the understory. Median leaf life span was approximately 26 months in the gap saplings, while it was estimated to be greater than 38 months in the understory saplings. Consequently, gap saplings had a greater standing leaf number and experienced greater degrees of self-shading than understory saplings. Light availability at individual leaves, estimated by a combination of canopy photos and a three-dimensional architecture model, were negatively correlated with leaf age in gap saplings but not so in understory saplings. Leaf nitrogen content per unit area (Narea) was influenced more by light availability than by leaf age in the gap saplings. In contrast, in understory saplings, Narea was neither correlated with light availability nor with leaf age, and did not decrease significantly before 38 months in leaf age. We conclude that saplings of this shade-tolerant species apparently prolong their leaf life span in the shaded understory through slower rates of leaf production, lower standing number of leaves and lower degrees of self shading than in gap, and that the rate of decline of Narea with leaf age depends on architecture and self-shading regimes that respond to changes in light regimes.

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