Anales del Jardín Botánico de Madrid, Vol 58, No 1 (2000)

The role of crown architecture for light harvesting and carbon gain in extreme light environments assessed with a structurally realistic 3-D model

Fernando Valladares
Centro de Ciencias Medioambientales, CSIC, Spain

Robert W. Pearcy
Section of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, United States


Main results from different studies of crown architecture adaptation to extreme light environments are presented. Light capture and carbon gain by plants from low (forest understory) and high (open Mediterranean-type ecosystems) light environments were simulated with a 3-D model (YPLANT), which was developed specifically to analyse the structural features that determine light interception and photosynthesis at the whole plant level. Distantly related taxa with contrasting architectures exhibited similar efficiencies of light interception (functional convergence). Between habitats large differences in architecture existed depending on whether light capture must be maximised or whether excess photon flux density must be avoided. These differences are realised both at the species level and within a species because of plastic adjustments of crown architecture to the external light environment. Realistic, 3-D architectural models are indispensable tools in this kind of comparative studies due to the intrinsic complexity of plant architecture. Their efficient development requires a fluid exchange of ideas between botanists, ecologists and plant modellers.


3-D model; crown architecture; excessive light; photosynthesis; shade; tropical rainforest; understory; Heteromeles arbutifolia; Retama sphaerocarpa; Stipa tenacissima

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