Effects of light and nutrients on seedlings of tropical Bauhinia lianas and trees

Z.Q. Cai, L. Poorter, Q. Han, F.J.J.M. Bongers

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Lianas differ from trees in many life history characteristics, and we predicted that they are phenotypically more responsive to environmental variation than trees. We analyzed responsiveness to light and nutrient availability of five Bauhinia species (three lianas and two trees). Seedlings were grown in a shade house in two light regimes (5 and 25% of full sunlight) and two nutrient supply regimes (field soil and N fertilization equivalent to 100 kg ha¿1), and important growth-related physiological and morphological plant parameters were measured. Light availability affected most of the measured variables, whereas N addition had only weak effects. In the four light-demanding species (two lianas and two trees), relative plant biomass growth rate increased and specific leaf area (SLA) decreased with increased light availability, whereas a shade-tolerant liana did not respond. Leaf N concentration and light-saturated photosynthetic rate per unit leaf area increased in response to increased irradiance or soil N in the light-demanding tree species and the shade-tolerant liana, but not in the two light-demanding lianas. The light-demanding lianas also had higher SLA and leaf mass ratio, resulting in a higher leaf area ratio (LAR) in high light, whereas the light-demanding trees did not. Across all treatments, mean plasticity indices of physiological and morphological traits, and all traits combined were similar among the studied species. Plasticity was higher in response to light than to N, indicating that light is the main factor controlling seedling responses of the studied species. Although lianas and trees did not differ in mean plasticity in response to light and N, the light-demanding lianas were phenotypically less plastic in LAR and in photosynthetic rates and biomass allocation than the trees. Light and N interacted in their effects on most physiological variables, but the consequences for relative growth rate differed little among species. We conclude that, contrary to our predictions, lianas were no more responsive to variation in light and N availability than trees.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1277-1285
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • rain-forest tree
  • photosynthetic acclimation
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • root competition
  • growth-responses
  • adult stature
  • leaf traits
  • plants
  • gap
  • availability

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