Differential leaf expansion can enable hydraulic acclimation to sun and shade


T. J. Brodribb. e-mail: timothyb@utas.edu.au


Although leaf size is one of the most responsive plant traits to environmental change, the functional benefits of large versus small leaves remain unclear. We hypothesized that modification of leaf size within species resulting from differences in irradiance can allow leaves to acclimate to different photosynthetic or evaporative conditions while maintaining an efficient balance between hydraulic supply (vein density) and evaporative demand. To test this, we compared the function and anatomy of leaf hydraulic systems in the leaves of a woody angiosperm (Toona ciliata M. Roem.) grown under high and low irradiance in controlled conditions. Our results confirm that in this species, differential leaf expansion regulates the density of veins and stomata such that leaf hydraulic conductance and stomatal conductance remain proportional. A broader sample of field-grown tree species suggested that differences in leaf venation and stomatal traits induced by sun and shade were not regulated by leaf size in all cases. Our results, however, suggest that leaf size plasticity can provide an efficient way for plants to acclimate hydraulic and stomatal conductances to the contrasting evaporative conditions of sun and shade.