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Seasonal patterns of light availability and light use of broadleaf evergreens in a deciduous forest understory: Potential mechanisms for expansion

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DOI: 10.4236/oje.2013.32018    3,840 Downloads   6,907 Views Citations

ABSTRACT

In recent years, expansion of native and exotic evergreen shrubs into forest understories has been documented worldwide. Dense shrub thickets may interfere with tree establishment, suppress herbaceous cover, and contribute substantially to total standing crop of leaf biomass. Expansion may occur because evergreen shrubs exploit seasonal variations in irradiance and temperature that are characteristic of temperate understory environments. We quantified leaf-level light environment and photosynthetic activity of three sympatric broadleaf evergreens (Ilex opaca, Kalmia latifolia, and Myrica cerifera) in a deciduous forest understory in Charles City County,Virginia,USAin order to understand seasonal intra- and interspecific ranges of broadleaf evergreen physiology. Two species (K. latifolia and M. cerifera) represent a diverse taxonomic range within broadleaf evergreens, and often form expansive thickets. We measured parameters related to canopy structure (e.g., bifurcation ratio, leaf angle) and photosynthetic performance (e.g., electron transport rate or ETR, chlorophyll content), to identify potential mechanisms facilitating expansion. ETR varied both seasonally and among species. In summer, M. cerifera ETR was nearly double that ofI. opaca or K. latifolia. Additionally, leaf temperature enhanced photosynthetic capacity of expansive species. Evergreen species, though capable of fixing carbon throughout the year, often exhibit slow growth rates and low physiological activity. Yet, we observed that the range of evergreen physiological activity may be broader than previously recognized. Furthermore, our results indicate potential for changes in composition and expansion of the evergreen shrub layer by species that exhibit structural and physiological mechanisms advantageous for future rises in temperature.

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Shiflett, S. , Zinnert, J. and Young, D. (2013) Seasonal patterns of light availability and light use of broadleaf evergreens in a deciduous forest understory: Potential mechanisms for expansion. Open Journal of Ecology, 3, 151-160. doi: 10.4236/oje.2013.32018.

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