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Tree Physiol. 2005 Aug;25(8):1041-52.

Shade tolerance, photoinhibition sensitivity and phenotypic plasticity of Ilex aquifolium in continental Mediterranean sites.

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  • 1Centro de Ciencias Medioambientales, CSIC, Serrano 115 dpdo, E-28006 Madrid, Spain.


Shade tolerance, plastic phenotypic response to light and sensitivity to photoinhibition were studied in holly (Ilex aquifolium L.) seedlings transported from the field to a greenhouse and in adult trees in the field. All plants were growing in, or originated from, continental Mediterranean sites in central Spain. Seedlings tolerated moderate but not deep shade. Mortality was high and growth reduced in 1% sunlight. Survival was maximal in 12% sunlight and minimal in full sunlight, although the relative growth rate of the seedlings surviving in high light was similar to that of plants in moderate shade. Maximum photochemical efficiency at predawn was significantly lower in sun plants than in shade plants in the field, revealing chronic photoinhibition that was most pronounced in winter. Plasticity in response to available light varied according to the variable studied, being low for photosynthetic capacity and stomatal conductance, and high for specific leaf area, root:shoot ratio and leaf area ratio, particularly in seedlings. Differences in water relations and hydraulic features between sun and shade plants in the field were marginal. High water potential at the turgor loss point of field-grown plants suggested that holly is sensitive to drought during both the seedling and the adult stage. Low relative growth rates in both high and low light with low physiological plasticity in response to light indicate the existence of a stress-tolerance mechanism. We conclude that holly is a facultative understory plant in areas of oceanic and relatively mild climate, but an obligate understory plant in dry continental areas such as the study site. The impact of abandonment of traditional management practices and climate change on these Mediterranean populations is discussed.

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