1 The ?big-leaf? approach to calculating the carbon balance of plant canopies is evaluated for inclusion in the ETEMA model framework. This approach assumes that canopy carbon fluxes have the same relative responses to the environment as any single leaf, and that the scaling from leaf to canopy is therefore linear. 2 A series of model simulations was performed with two models of leaf photosynthesis, three distributions of canopy nitrogen, and two levels of canopy radiation detail. Leaf- and canopy-level responses to light and nitrogen, both as instantaneous rates and daily integrals, are presented. 3 Observed leaf nitrogen contents of unshaded leaves are over 40% lower than the big-leaf approach requires. Scaling from these leaves to the canopy using the big-leaf approach may underestimate canopy photosynthesis by ~20%. A leaf photosynthesis model that treats within-leaf light extinction displays characteristics that contradict the big-leaf theory. Observed distributions of canopy nitrogen are closer to those required to optimize this model than the homogeneous model used in the big-leaf approach. 4 It is theoretically consistent to use the big-leaf approach with the homogeneous photosynthesis model to estimate canopy carbon fluxes if canopy nitrogen and leaf area are known and if the distribution of nitrogen is assumed optimal. However, real nitrogen profiles are not optimal for this photosynthesis model, and caution is necessary in using the big-leaf approach to scale satellite estimates of leaf physiology to canopies. Accurate prediction of canopy carbon fluxes requires canopy nitrogen, leaf area, declining nitrogen with canopy depth, the heterogeneous model of leaf photosynthesis and the separation of sunlit and shaded leaves. The exact nitrogen profile is not critical, but realistic distributions can be predicted using a simple model of canopy nitrogen allocation.
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