1. The ability of rain-forest plants to utilize sunflecks for growth was investigated using the following species: Alocasia macrorrhiza, Diploglottis diphyllostegia, Micromelum minutum and Omalanthus novo-guinensis.
2. Growth analysis and gas-exchange measurements were used to assess performance of the four species when exposed to either constant or fluctuating light.
3. Final biomass (g dry wt) in D. diphyllostegia and M. minutum grown under the lightfleck regime (total daily PFD = 7·02 mol m–2 day–1) was significantly greater than in the same species grown under constant low PFD (total daily PFD = 4·86 mol m–2 day–1). In contrast, final biomass in lightfleck O. novo-guinensis and A. macrorrhiza was significantly reduced in comparison with the same species grown under constant low PFD.
4. When grown under either constant or fluctuating light but with the same total daily PFD, A. macrorrhiza and O. novo-guinensis had significantly lower final biomass in fluctuating light as compared to constant light. Final biomass in D. diphyllostegia was not significantly different in either regime, while M. minutum had significantly higher final biomass in the fluctuating light regime.
5. Responses of the four species to fluctuating or constant light appeared to be the result of physiological rather than morphological acclimation as net assimilation rate was more closely correlated with relative growth rate than was leaf area ratio.