Some shade leaves increase their photosynthetic capacity (P max) when exposed to a higher irradiance. The increase in P max is associated with an increase in chloroplast size or number. To accommodate those chloroplasts, plants need to make thick leaves in advance. We studied the cost and benefit of photosynthetic acclimation in mature leaves of a tree species, Kalopanax pictus Nakai, in a cool-temperate deciduous forest. Costs were evaluated as the additional investment in biomass required to make thick leaves, while the benefit was evaluated as an increase in photosynthetic carbon gain. We created gaps by felling canopy trees and examined the photosynthetic responses of mature leaves of the understorey seedlings. In the shade, leaves of K. pictus had vacant spaces that were not filled by chloroplasts in the mesophyll cells facing the intercellular space. When those leaves were exposed to higher irradiance after gap formation, the area of the mesophyll surface covered by chloroplasts increased by 17% and P max by 27%. This increase in P max led to an 11% increase in daily carbon gain, which was greater than the amount of biomass additionally invested to construct thicker leaves. We conclude that the capacity of a plant to acclimate to light (photosynthetic acclimation) would contribute to rapid growth in response to gap formation.
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