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Am J Bot. 2002 Dec;89(12):1925-32. doi: 10.3732/ajb.89.12.1925.

Decline of photosynthetic capacity with leaf age and position in two tropical pioneer tree species.

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Department of Botany, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611 USA;


The effect of leaf age on photosynthetic capacity, a critical parameter in the theory of optimal leaf longevity, was studied for two tropical pioneer tree species, Cecropia longipes and Urera caracasana, in a seasonally dry forest in Panama. These species continuously produce short-lived leaves (74 and 93 d, respectively) during the rainy season (May-December) on orthotropic branches. However, they differ in leaf production rate, maximum number of leaves per branch, light environment experienced by the leaves, leaf mass per unit area, and nitrogen content. Light-saturated photosynthetic rates for marked leaves of known ages (±1 wk) were measured with two contrasting schemes (repeated measurements vs. chronosequence within branch), which overall produced similar results. In both species, photosynthetic rates and nitrogen use efficiency were negatively correlated with leaf age and positively correlated with light availability. Photosynthetic rates declined faster with leaf age in Cecropia than in Urera as predicted by the theory. The rate of decline was faster for leaves on branches with faster leaf turnover rates. Nitrogen per unit leaf area decreased with leaf age only for Urera. Leaf mass per unit area increased with leaf age, either partly (in Cecropia) or entirely (in Urera) due to ash accumulation.

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