Ontogenetic variation in light interception, self-shading and biomass distribution of seedlings of the conifer Araucaria araucana (Molina) K. Koch

Christopher H. Lusk*, Daniel S. Falster, Manuel Pérez-Millaqueo, Alfredo Saldaña

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


One of the factors thought to contribute to ontogenetic declines in plant growth rates is diminishing light interception efficiency, as a result of the difficulties of avoiding self-shading among a growing number of leaves, and by stems. The effects of plant size on self-shading and light interception have rarely been quantified, however. We used a three-dimensional digitising system to construct virtual models of the architecture of Araucaria araucana seedlings 71 to 358 mm tall, and modelled their light interception in the forest understorey using the program YPLANT. We also analyzed seedling allometry, to determine the combined effects of biomass distribution and self-shading on total light interception. Average light interception efficiencies calculated for A. araucana (29 %) were the lowest reported for rainforest tree seedlings, reflecting the limitations imposed by short leaves, lack of petioles and an inability to develop planar foliage geometry on branches. Total light interception was related to seedling leaf area by an exponent of 0.735, reflecting increasing self-shading as seedlings grew bigger. However, because leaf area was related to seedling mass by an exponent of 1.24, light interception scaled nearly isometrically (0.91 power) with seedling mass. This resulted from taller plants having proportionally thinner stems, and a smaller fraction of their biomass in roots. Thus, an ontogenetic increase in self-shading in A. araucana is largely offset by allocation changes which increase leaf area ratio as seedlings grow bigger. These mechanisms conserving the relationship of light interception with plant mass seem likely to be restricted to species with long-lived leaves, growing in humid situations protected from wind stress. In open habitats, where wind and drought stress likely make such allocation patterns less feasible, the role of self-shading in ontogenetic declines in relative growth rate may be more evident.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-328
Number of pages8
JournalRevista Chilena de Historia Natural
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2006


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