1. One-year-old seedlings of shade tolerant Acer rubrum and intolerant Betula papyrifera were grown in ambient and twice ambient (elevated) CO2, and in full sun and 80% shade for 90 days. The shaded seedlings received 30-min sun patches twice during the course of the day. Gas exchange and tissue–water relations were measured at midday in the sun plants and following 20 min of exposure to full sun in the shade plants to determine the effect of elevated CO2 on constraints to sun-patch utilization in these species.
2. Elevated CO2 had the largest stimulation of photosynthesis in B. papyrifera sun plants and A. rubrum shade plants.
3. Higher photosynthesis per unit leaf area in sun plants than in shade plants of B. papyrifera was largely owing to differences in leaf morphology. Acer rubrum exhibited sun/shade differences in photosynthesis per unit leaf mass consistent with biochemical acclimation to shade.
4.Betula papyrifera exhibited CO2 responses that would facilitate tolerance to leaf water deficits in large sun patches, including osmotic adjustment and higher transpiration and stomatal conductance at a given leaf-water potential, whereas A. rubrum exhibited large increases in photosynthetic nitrogen-use efficiency.
5. Results suggest that species of contrasting successional ranks respond differently to elevated CO2, in ways that are consistent with the habitats in which they typically occur.