Photosynthesis and leaf morphology of Liquidambar styraciflua L. under variable urban radiant energy conditions

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International Journal of Biometeorology







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Diminished sunlight, characteristic of urban canyons, has been suggested as being potentially limiting to plant growth. This study investigated the response of sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua L.) to variable irradiance in a range of urban locations. Diurnal photosynthesis was measured in situ on mature trees, comparing an open site at an urban park with an urban canyon that received 4 h of midday sun in midsummer. Photosynthesis for trees growing in the canyon was lower both during shaded and sunlit periods compared with trees at the park. Photosynthesis of detached shoots in a growth chamber was greater in canyon than park foliage at low irradiance, indicating possible photosynthetic shade acclimation analogous to tree species growing in the forest understorey. Shoot and trunk growth and morphological characteristics were measured onL. styraciflua growing along boulevards at 15 additional urban sites and related to seasonal interception of solar radiation. Angular elevation and orientation of buildings and trees that defined the horizon topography at each site were used in modeling the potential irradiance of global shortwave radiation. Seasonal irradiance among sites ranged from 21% in the urban core to nearly 95% in outlying residential districts of that potentially received under an unobstructed horizon. Shade acclimation was confirmed by differences in leaf morphology, as foliage became flatter, thinner, and more horizontally oriented at sites with lower irradiance. Photosynthetic and morphological acclimation to shade did not compensate for lower available radiant energy as both shoot and trunk growth decreased at sites of lower irradiance. Unlike the forest understorey, the static light environment of urban canyons may subject shade-intolerant species such asL. styraciflua to chronic, low-radiant-energy stress.

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