Light-dependent changes in biomass allocation and their importance for growth of rain forest tree species


  • Poorter L.

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Plant Ecology, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80084, 3508 TB Utrecht, The Netherlands, and Programa Manejo de Bosques de la Amazonía Boliviana (PROMAB), Casilla 107, Riberalta, Bolivia
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Present address: Silviculture and Forest Ecology, Department of Environmental Sciences, P.O. Box 342, 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands.


  • 1 Sapling growth of six rain forest tree species was compared to evaluate whether species respond in a similar way to a natural light gradient. Saplings were measured non-destructively; production and loss of leaves, stem and branches were analysed in detail.
  • 2 Sapling height growth was positively related to light environment and leaf area. No single descriptor of light environment explained sapling growth best. Direct or diffuse light could explain plant growth, depending on species.
  • 3 Seventeen percent of the saplings had negative relative biomass growth rates, although they occurred in fairly bright conditions. Negative growth rates were caused by leaf shedding and stem breakage. Sapling relative growth rate increased with irradiance, mainly because of an increase in net assimilation rate.
  • 4 On a shoot basis, shaded plants had a smaller leaf mass fraction (LMF) and a larger specific leaf area, resulting in similar leaf area ratios (LAR) to those of sun plants. This contrasts with the results of seedling studies under controlled conditions, where LMF and LAR increased with shade.
  • 5 Biomass partitioning to leaf growth decreased with irradiance and relative growth rate of the sapling. This leaf partitioning ratio was better correlated with RGR than with irradiance.
  • 6 Species differed in the effect of light-dependent changes in specific leaf area (SLA) on growth. This underscores the importance of SLA in explaining differences in species performance in a forest environment. Nevertheless, the effect of SLA was not related to the shade tolerance of the species.