Canopy structure and vertical patterns of photosynthesis and related leaf traits in a deciduous forest

D. S. Ellsworth, P. B. Reich

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607 Scopus citations


Canopy structure and light interception were measured in an 18-m tall, closed canopy deciduous forest of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) in southwestern Wisconsin, USA, and related to leaf structural characteristics, N content, and leaf photosynthetic capacity. Light attenuation in the forest occurred primarily in the upper and middle portions of the canopy. Forest stand leaf area index (LAI) and its distribution with respect to canopy height were estimated from canopy transmittance values independently verified with a combined leaf litterfall and point-intersect method. Leaf mass, N and Amax per unit area (LMA, N/area and Amax/area, respectively) all decreased continuously by over two-fold from the upper to lower canopy, and these traits were strongly correlated with cumulative leaf area above the leaf position in the canopy. In contrast, neither N concentration nor Amax per unit mass varied significantly in relation to the vertical canopy gradient. Since leaf N concentration showed no consistent pattern with respect to canopy position, the observed vertical pattern in N/area is a direct consequence of vertical variation of LMA. N/area and LMA were strongly correlated with Amax/area among different canopy positions (r2=0.81 and r2=0.66, respectively), indicating that vertical variation in area-based photosynthetic capacity can also be attributed to variation in LMA. A model of whole-canopy photosynthesis was used to show that observed or hypothetical canopy mass distributions toward higher LMA (and hence higher N/area) in the upper portions of the canopy tended to increase integrated daily canopy photosynthesis over other LMA distribution patterns. Empirical relationships between leaf and canopy-level characteristics may help resolve problems associated with scaling gas exchange measurements made at the leaf level to the individual tree crown and forest canopy-level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-178
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1 1993


  • Acer saccharum
  • Forest canopy
  • Nitrogen
  • Photosynthesis
  • Sugar maple


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