Gradients of light availability and leaf traits with leaf age and canopy position in 28 Australian shrubs and trees Conference Paper uri icon


  • Light availability generally decreases vertically downwards through plant canopies. According to optimisation theory, in order to maximise canopy photosynthesis plants should allocate leaf nitrogen per area (Narea) in parallel with vertical light gradients, and leaf mass per area (LMA) and leaf angles should decrease down through the canopy also. Many species show trends consistent with these predictions, although these are never as steep as predicted. Most studies of canopy gradients in leaf traits have concerned tall herbaceous vegetation or forest trees. But do evergreen species from open habitats also show these patterns? We quantified gradients of light availability, LMA, leaf N and phosphorus (P), and leaf angle along leaf age sequences and vertical canopy profiles, across 28 woody species from open habitats in eastern Australia. The observed trends in LMA, Narea and leaf angle largely conflicted with expectations from canopy optimisation models, whereas trends in leaf P were more consistent with optimal allocation. These discrepancies most likely relate to these species having rather open canopies with quite shallow light gradients, but also suggest that modelling the co-optimisation of resources other than nitrogen is required for understanding plant canopies.


publication date

  • 2006