Author(s): Fernando Valladares, John B Skillman, Robert W Pearcy
Leaf and crown characteristics were examined for 24 tree and herbaceous species of contrasting architectures from the understory of a lowland rainforest. Light-capture efficiency was estimated for the crowns of the different species with a three-dimensional geometric modeling program. Causal relationships among traits affecting light absorption at two hierarchical levels (leaf and whole crown) were quantified using path analysis. Light-capture and foliage display efficiency were found to be very similar among the 24 species studied, with most converging on a narrow range of light absorption efficiencies (ratio of absorbed vs. available light of 0.60–0.75). Exceptionally low values were found for the climber vines and, to a lesser extent, for the Bromeliad Aechmea magdalenae. Differences in photosynthetic photon flux density (PFD) absorbed per unit leaf area by individual plants were mostly determined by site to site variation in PFD and not by the differences in crown architecture among individuals or species. Leaf angle, and to a lesser extent also supporting biomass, specific leaf area, and internode length, had a significant effect on foliage display efficiency. Potential constraints on light capture such as the phyllotactic pattern were generally offset by other compensatory adjustments of crown structure such as internode length, arching stems, and plagiotropy. The variety of shoot morphologies capable of efficiently capturing light in tropical forest understories is greater than initially thought, extending over species with very different phyllotactic patterns, crown architectures, leaf sizes, and morphologies.