The effect of defoliation intensity and history on photosynthesis, growth and carbon reserves of two conifers with contrasting leaf lifespans and growth habits



The effects of partial defoliation on photosynthesis, whole-seedling carbon allocation, partitioning and growth were studied for two species with contrasting foliar traits. Field-grown seedlings of deciduous Japanese larch (Larix leptolepis) and evergreen red pine (Pinus resinosa) were defoliated by hand in early summer for 2 consecutive years. In the first year (1990), seedlings were defoliated by removing the distal 0, 25, 50 or 75% of each needle. In the second year (1991), seedlings were defoliated either 0 or 50%, regardless of previous defoliation treatments. Defoliation had little effect on photosynthesis and starch concentration in whole seedlings of either species in the first year. In the second year, photosynthesis increased in both species in response to the 1991 defoliation treatment, and in red pine also increased in response to the 1990 defoliation treatment. Further, in 1991 both larch and pine had decreased whole-seedling total non-structural carbohydrate concentrations in all seedlings that were defoliated at least once over the 2-yr period. This decrease was noted mostly in the starch component of the non-structural carbohydrates, and was similar in both species. In 1991, biomass was similarly decreased in both species in response to 1991 defoliation. Both species showed overcompensation in total and component biomass in seedlings defoliated by 25% in 1990. Overall, the results do not support the widely held belief that evergreen trees are substantially more affected than deciduous trees by defoliation.