A meta-analysis of plant responses to light intensity for 70 traits ranging from molecules to whole plant performance

Hendrik Poorter*, Ülo Niinemets, Nikolaos Ntagkas, Alrun Siebenkäs, Maarit Mäenpää, Shizue Matsubara, Thijs L. Pons

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    299 Citations (Scopus)


    By means of meta-analyses we determined how 70 traits related to plant anatomy, morphology, chemistry, physiology, growth and reproduction are affected by daily light integral (DLI; mol photons m−2 d−1). A large database including 500 experiments with 760 plant species enabled us to determine generalized dose–response curves. Many traits increase with DLI in a saturating fashion. Some showed a more than 10-fold increase over the DLI range of 1-50 mol m−2 d−1, such as the number of seeds produced per plant and the actual rate of photosynthesis. Strong decreases with DLI (up to three-fold) were observed for leaf area ratio and leaf payback time. Plasticity differences among species groups were generally small compared with the overall responses to DLI. However, for a number of traits, including photosynthetic capacity and realized growth, we found woody and shade-tolerant species to have lower plasticity. We further conclude that the direction and degree of trait changes adheres with responses to plant density and to vertical light gradients within plant canopies. This synthesis provides a strong quantitative basis for understanding plant acclimation to light, from molecular to whole plant responses, but also identifies the variables that currently form weak spots in our knowledge, such as respiration and reproductive characteristics.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1073-1105
    Number of pages33
    JournalNew Phytologist
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


    • daily light integral (DLI)
    • dose–response curve
    • functional groups
    • growth irradiance
    • meta-analysis
    • reaction norm
    • shade tolerance


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