Over the course of a day, aridland plants experience a range of incident photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) spanning three orders of magnitude. Rapid photosynthetic responses to changes in PPF have large effects on individual plant carbon gain and water use patterns, hence are important to plant distribution and success. We investigated the response over time of photosynthesis (A), stomatal conductance (g), and inter-cellular CO2concentration (Ci) to step changes in PPF in a long-lived aridland perennial that typically occurs in two contrasting microhabitats, shade under shrubs of other species and unshaded inter-shrub spaces. An initial rapid response in A and Cifor plants in both microhabitats occurred after abrupt changes in PPF. This was followed by slower changes in these parameters during the rest of the light or dark period. Stomatal conductance responded more gradually to step changes in PPF. The initial increase in A after a dark cycle was significantly greater for plants under shrubs than for plants in inter-shrub spaces, but other changes in A, g and Cidid not differ. We attribute the similar responses in plants from different microhabitats to natural variations in solar radiation and limited selection for differentiation due to population gene pools dominated by plants in the open. Our results support the hypothesis that variable light regimes select for photosynthetic gas exchange processes that closely track changes in incident PPF. Our data also support the hypothesis that gas exchange responses to variable light regimes in aridland plants minimize trade-offs between carbon gain and water loss. © 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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