There is presently no consensus about the factor(s) driving photosynthetic acclimation and the intra-canopy distribution of leaf characteristics under natural conditions. The impact was tested of local (i) light quality (red/far red ratio), (ii) leaf irradiance (PPFD(i)), and (iii) transpiration rate (E) on total non-structural carbohydrates per leaf area (TNC(a)), TNC-free leaf mass-to-area ratio (LMA), total leaf nitrogen per leaf area (N(a)), photosynthetic capacity (maximum carboxylation rate and light-saturated electron transport rate), and leaf N partitioning between carboxylation and bioenergetics within the foliage of young walnut trees grown outdoors. Light environment (quantity and quality) was controlled by placing individual branches under neutral or green screens during spring growth, and air vapour pressure deficit (VPD) was prescribed and leaf transpiration and photosynthesis measured at branch level by a branch bag technique. Under similar levels of leaf irradiance, low air vapour pressure deficit decreased transpiration rate but did not influence leaf characteristics. Close linear relationships were detected between leaf irradiance and leaf N(a), LMA or photosynthetic capacity, and low R/FR ratio decreased leaf N(a), LMA and photosynthetic capacity. Irradiance and R/FR also influenced the partitioning of leaf nitrogen into carboxylation and electron light transport. Thus, local light level and quality are the major factors driving photosynthetic acclimation and intra-canopy distribution of leaf characteristics, whereas local transpiration rate is of less importance.
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