Simulating Forest Shade to Study the Developmental Ecology of Tropical Plants: Juvenile Growth in Three Vines in India

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Both light quantity and quality affect the development and autoecology of plants under shade conditions, as in the understorey of tropical forests. However, little research has been directed towards the relative contributions of lowered photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) versus altered spectral distributions (as indicated by quantum ratios of 660 to 730 nm, or R:FR) of radiation underneath vegetation canopies. A method for constructing shade enclosures to study the contribution of these two variables is described. Three tropical leguminous vine species (Abrus precatorius L., Caesalpinia bondicela Fleming and Mucuna pruriens (L.) DC.) were grown in two shade enclosures with 3-4% of solar PPFD with either the R:FR of sunlight (1.10) or foliage shade (0.33), and compared to plants grown in sunlight. Most species treated with low R:FR differed from those treated with high R:FR in (1) percent allocation to dry leaf weight, (2) internode length, (3) dry stem weight/length, (4) specific leaf weight, (5) leaf size, and (6) chlorophyll a/b ratios. However, these plants did not differ in chlorophyll content per leaf dry weight or area. In most cases the effects of low R:FR and PPFD were additional to those of high R:FR and low PPFD. Growth patterns varied among the three species, but both low PPFD and diminished R:FR were important cues in their developmental responses to light environments. This shadehouse system should be useful in studying the effects of light on the developmental ecology of other tropical forest plants.

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