Allocation of above-ground growth is related to light in temperate deciduous saplings


*Present address and correspondence: Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University, 22 Divinity Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. E-mail:


  • 1Allocational shifts in response to light may be an important factor in allowing plants to survive in shade, while increasing their extension rates and competitive ability in sun. To investigate this response, the allocation of above-ground growth between leaves, branches and stems was studied in saplings of Acer pensylvanicum L. and Castenea dentata (Marsh.) Borkh. in the Appalachian mountains of western Virginia, USA. Measurements of current leaf biomass, current and past year leaf numbers and the growth ring widths of branches and stem were used to estimate biomass partitioning for saplings growing in locations ranging from forest understorey to large openings.
  • 2Both species showed higher leaf area per unit leaf biomass (SLA) and higher allocation of above-ground growth to leaves in shade than in sun.
  • 3There were no differences between species in the slopes of the relationships of allocation and SLA vs estimated irradiance, but SLA was significantly greater in A. pensylvanicum than in C. dentata at a given light level. Hence, somewhat lower production per unit leaf area is required to maintain the canopy in A. pensylvanicum, consistent with foresters’ ratings of greater shade tolerance for this species.
  • 4Greater foliar allocation in shade than sun has also been observed in broad-leaved evergreen saplings, but generally not in seedlings. This difference is probably related to differences in size and age between seedlings and saplings. Young seedlings typically show exponential growth with no immediate foliar losses, while shaded saplings lie closer to the steady state where new leaves replace old ones with little additional stem growth.
  • 5Thus trees shift their allocation patterns in an acclimatory fashion, depending on their size and light environment, with the costs of replacing senesced leaves becoming of consequence as juveniles age.