Within each species, leaf traits such as light-saturated photosynthetic rate or dark respiration rate acclimate to local light environment. Comparing only static physiological traits, however, may not be sufficient to evaluate the effects of such acclimation in the shade because the light environment changes diurnally. We investigated leaf photosynthetic and morphological acclimation for a perennial herb, butterbur (Petasites japonicus
(Siebold et Zucc.) Maxim. subsp. giganteus
(G.Nicholson) Kitam.) (Asteraceae), in both a well-lit clearing and a shaded understory of a temperate forest. Diurnal changes in light intensity incident on the leaves were also measured on a sunny day and an overcast day. Leaves in the clearing were more folded and upright, whereas leaves in the understory were flatter. Leaf mass per area (LMA) was approximately twofold higher in the clearing than in the understory, while light-saturated photosynthetic rate and dark respiration rate per unit mass of leaf were similar between the sites. Consequently, both light-saturated photosynthetic rate and dark respiration rate per unit area of leaf were approximately twofold higher in the clearing than in the understory, consistent with previous studies on different species. Using this experimental dataset, we performed a simulation in which sun and shade leaves were hypothetically exchanged to investigate whether such plasticity increased carbon gain at each local environment. As expected, in the clearing, the locally acclimated sun leaves gained more carbon than the hypothetically transferred shade leaves. By contrast, in the understory, the daily net carbon gain was similar between the simulated sun and shade leaves on the sunny day due to the frequent sunflecks. Lower LMA and lower photosynthetic capacity in the understory reduced leaf construction cost per area rather than maximizing net daily carbon gain. These results indicate that information on static photosynthetic parameters may not be sufficient to evaluate shade acclimation in forest understories.
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