1. Leaf area was removed from Solidago altissima in either a dispersed pattern (half of every leaf removed) or a concentrated pattern (every other leaf removed) and effects on leaf gas exchange, vegetative growth and flowering were examined relative to undefoliated controls. Gas exchange was measured for leaves remaining after defoliation and for regrowth leaves that developed post-damage (at 7, 16 and 26 days post-defoliation).
2. Area-based photosynthetic rates of leaves remaining after defoliation were not affected by either dispersed or concentrated damage, but damage of both types enhanced area-based photosynthesis of regrowth leaves at 16 days post-defoliation and to a lesser extent at 26 days post-defoliation.
3. Dispersed damage, but not concentrated damage, stimulated mass-based photosynthesis of undamaged leaves remaining after defoliation. Undamaged leaves remaining after defoliation and regrowth leaves on damaged plants had higher specific leaf area (leaf area/leaf mass) than comparable leaves on control plants. Mass-based photosynthesis was more strongly elevated by defoliation than area-based photosynthesis because of this increase in specific leaf area.
4. Plants with dispersed damage recovered more quickly from defoliation; they had higher relative growth rates in the first week post-defoliation than plants with concentrated damage. Both types of defoliation caused similar reductions in flower production.
5. These results add to accumulating evidence that dispersed damage is generally less detrimental to plants than concentrated damage and suggest that physiological changes in leaves may be part of the reason.