Leaf age and season influence the relationships between leaf nitrogen, leaf mass per area and photosynthesis in maple and oak trees


P. B. Reich Department of Forest Resources, 1530 N. Cleveland Avenue, University of Minnesota. St Paul, IN 55108, U.S.A.


Abstract. Seasonal changes in photosynthesis, leaf nitrogen (N) contents and leaf mass per area (LMA) were observed over three growing seasons in open-grown sun-lit leaves of red maple (Acer rubrum), sugar maple (A. sacchamm) and northern pin oak (Quereus ellipsoidalis) trees in southern Wisconsin. Net photosynthesis and leaf N were highly linearly correlated on both mass and area bases within all species from late spring until leaf senescence in fall. Very early in the growing season leaves had high N concentrations, but low photosynthetic rates per unit leaf N, suggesting that leaves were not fully functionally developed at that time. Leaf N per unit area and LMA had nonparallel seasonal patterns, resulting in differing relationships between leaf N/area and LMA in the “early versus late growing season. As a result of differences in seasonal patterns between leaf N/area and LMA, net photosynthesis/area was higher for a given LMA in the spring than fall, and the overall relationships between these two parameters were poor.