• habitat distribution;
  • higher plants;
  • light-acclimation;
  • photosynthesis


  1. Top of page

Twenty-two common British angiosperms were examined for their ability to acclimate photosynthetically to sun and shade conditions. Plants were grown under low irradiance, far-red enriched light (50 μmol m−2 s−1), selected to mimic as closely as possible natural canopy shade, and moderately high light of insufficient irradiance to induce photoinhibitory or photoprotective responses (300 μmol m−2 s−1). Light-and CO2-saturated photosynthetic rates of oxygen evolution (Pmax) and chlorophyll content were measured. Large variation was found in both parameters, and two ‘strategies’ for long-term acclimation were identified: firstly a change in chlorophyll per unit leaf area which was found to correlate positively with photosynthetic capacity, and secondly changes in chlorophyll alb ratio and Pmax, indicative of alterations at the chloroplast level, which were not associated with a change in chlorophyll content per unit leaf area. Combinations of these two strategies may occur, giving rise to the observed diversity in photosynthetic acclimation. The extent and nature of photosynthetic acclimation were compared with an index of shade association, calculated from the association each species has with woodland. It was found that the greatest flexibility for change at the chloroplast level was found in those species possessing an intermediate shade association, whilst acclimation in ‘sun’ species proceeded by a change in chlorophyll content; obligate shade species showed little capacity for acclimation at either the chloroplast or leaf level. A framework for explaining the variation between plant species in leaf-level photosynthetic capacity, in relation to the natural light environment, is presented. This is the first time the potential for light acclimation of photosynthesis in different plant species has been satisfactorily linked to habitat distribution.



Chl alb

ratio of chlorophyll a to chlorophyll b


far-red irradiance


low irradiance far-red enriched growth, light


light harvesting complex associated with PSII


moderate irradiance, white growth light


photosynthetically active radiation


light- and CO2- saturated photosynthetic rate


Ribulose 1,5-bisphospahate carboxylase/oxygenase


specific leaf fresh weight


  1. Top of page
  • Anderson J.M. & Osmond C.B. (1987) Shade – sun responses: compromises between acclimation and photoinhibition. In Photoinhibition (eds D. J.Kyle, C. B.Osmond & C. J.Arntzen), pp. 136. Elsevier Science Publishers, B.V., Amsterdam .
  • Björkman O. (1981) Responses to different quantum flux densities. In Physiological Plant Ecology. I Encyclopaedia of Plant Physiology, Vol. 12A (eds O. L.Lange, P. S.Nobel and O.Björkman), pp. 57107. Springer-Verlag, Berlin .
  • Björkman O. & Ludlow M.M. (1972) Characterisation of the light climate on the floor of a Queensland rainforest. Carnegie Institute of Washington Yearbook 71, 94102.
  • Boardman N.K. (1977) Comparative photosynthesis of sun and shade plants. Annual Review of Plant Physiology 28, 35577.
  • Chow W.S., Adamson H.Y. & Anderson J.M. (1991) Photosynthetic acclimation of Tradescantia albiflora to growth irradiance: lack of adjustment of light-harvesting components and its consequences. Physiologia Plantation 81, 175182.
  • Chow W.S., Luping Qian, Goodchild D.J. & Anderson J.M. (1987) Photosynthetic acclimation of Alocasia macrorrhiza (L.) G. Don to growth irradiance: structure, function and composition of chloroplasts. In Ecology of Photosynthesis in Sun and Shade (eds J. R.Evans, S.vonCaemmerer & W. W.AdamsIII), pp. 107122. CSIRO, Australia .
  • Chow W.S., Melis A. & Anderson J.M. (1990) Adjustments of photosystem stoichiometry in chloroplasts improve the quantum efficiency of photosynthesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 87, 75027506.
  • De la Torre W.R. & Burkey K.O. (1990a) Acclimation of barley to changes in light intensity: photosynthetic electron transport activity and components. Photosynthesis Research 24, 127136.
  • De la Torre W.R. & Burkey K.O. (1990b) Acclimation of barley to changes in light intensity: chlorophyll organisation. Photosynthesis Research 24, 117125.
  • Evans J.R. (1987) The relationship between electron transport components and photosynthetic capacity in pea leaves grown at different irradiances. Australian Journal of Plant Physiology 14, 157170.
  • Foyer C., Furbank R., Harbinson J. & Horton P. (1990) The mechanisms contributing to photosynthetic control of electron transport by carbon assimilation in leaves. Photosynthesis Research 25, 83100.
  • Givnish T.J. (1987) Adaptation to sun and shade: a whole plant perspective. In Ecology of Photosynthesis in Sun and Shade (eds J. R.Evans, S.vonCaemmerer & W. W.AdamsIII), pp. 6392. CSIRO, Australia .
  • Grime J.P., Hodgson J.G. & Hunt R. (1988) Comparative Plant Ecology. Unwin Hyman, London .
  • Johnson G.N., Scholes J.D., Horton P. & Young A.J. (1993a) The dissipation of excitation energy in British plant species. Plant, Cell and Environment 16, 673679.
  • Johnson G.N., Scholes J.D., Horton P. & Young A.J. (1993b) Relationships between carotenoid composition and growth habit in British plant species. Plant, Cell and Environment 16, 681686.
  • Jurik T.W., Chabot J.F. & Chabot B.F. (1979) Ontogeny of photosynthetic performance of Fragaria virginiana under changing light regimes. Plant Physiology 63, 542547.
  • Larsson U.K., Anderson J.M. & Andersson B. (1987) Variations in the relative content of the peripheral and inner light harvesting chlorophyll a/b protein complex (LHCII) subpopulations during thylakoid light adaptation and development. Biochimica Biophysica Acta 894, 6975.
  • Leong T.-Y. & Anderson J.M. (1984a) Adaptation of the thylakoid membranes of pea chloroplasts to light intensities. II. Regulation of electron transport capacities, electron carriers, coupling factor (CF1) activity and rates of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis Research 5, 117128.
  • Leong T.-Y. & Anderson J.M. (1984b) Adaptation of the thylakoid membranes of pea chloroplasts to light intensities. I. Study on the distribution of chlorophyll-protein complexes. Photosynthesis Research 5, 105115.
  • Lichtenthaler H.K., Kuhn G., Prenzel U., Buschmann C. & Meier D. (1982) Adaptation of chloroplast ultrastructure and of chlorophyll protein levels to high light and low light growth conditions. Zeitschrift Fur Naturforschung Teil C 37, 464475.
  • Lichtenthaler H.K. & Wellburn A.R. (1983) Determinations of total carotenoids and chlorophyll a and b of leaf extracts in different solvents. Biochemical Society Transactions 11, 591592.
  • Nishio J.N., Sun J. & Vogelmann T.C. (1993) Carbon fixation gradients across spinach leaves do not follow internal light gradients. Plant Cell 5, 953961.
  • Nobel P.S. (1977) Internal leaf area and cellular CO2 resistance: photosynthetic implications of variations with growth conditions and plant species. Physiologia Plantarum 40, 137144.
  • Öquist G., Chow W.S. & Anderson J.M. (1992) Photoinhibition of photosynthesis represents a long term mechanism for regulation of photosystem II. Planta 186, 450460.
  • Quick W.P., Schurr U., Scheibe R., Schulze E.-D., Rodermel S.R., Bogorad L. & Stitt M. (1991) Decreased ribulose-1, 5-bisphosphate carboxylase-oxygenase in transgenic tobacco transformed with ‘antisense’rbcS. I. Impact on photosynthesis in ambient growth conditions. Planta 183, 542554.
  • Seemann J.R., Sharkey T.D., Wang J. & Osmond C.B. (1987) Environmental effects on photosynthesis, nitrogen use efficiency, and metabolite pools in leaves of sun and shade plants. Plant Physiology 84, 796802.
  • Smith H. (1982) Light quality, photoperception and plant strategy. Annual Review of Plant Physiology 33, 481518.
  • Stitt M. (1986) Limitation of photosynthesis by carbon metabolism I. Evidence for excess electron transport in leaves carrying out photosynthesis in saturating light and CO2. FEBS Letters 111, 9598.
  • Terashima I. & Inoue Y. (1985) Vertical gradient in photosynthetic properties of spinach chloroplasts dependent on intra-leaf light environment. Plant Cell Physiology 26, 781785.
  • Walters R.G. & Horton P. (1991) Resolution of components of non – photochemical chlorophyll fluorescence quenching in barley leaves. Photosynthesis Research 27, 121133.
  • Walters R.G. & Horton P. (1994) Acclimation of Arabidopsis thaliana to the light environment: Changes in composition of the photosynthetic apparatus. Planta 195, 248256.
  • Walters R.G. & Horton P. (1995) Acclimation of Arabidopsis thaliana to the light environment: changes in photosynthetic function. Planta 197, 306312.
  • Wild A., Höpfner M., Ruhle W. & Richter M. (1986) Changes in the stoichiometry of photosystem II components as an adaptive response to high-light and low-light conditions during growth. Zeitschrift Fuer Naturforschung Teil C 41, 597603.