A new paradigm in leaf-level photosynthesis: direct and diffuse lights are not equal

Plant Cell Environ. 2008 Jan;31(1):159-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3040.2007.01751.x. Epub 2007 Nov 20.


Global-change scenarios suggest a trend of increasing diffuse light due to expected increases in cloud cover. Canopy-level measurements of plant-community photosynthesis under diffuse light show increased productivity attributed to more uniform distribution of light within the forest canopy, yet the effect of the directional quality of light at the leaf level is unknown. Here we show that leaf-level photosynthesis in sun leaves of both C(3) and C(4) plants can be 10-15% higher under direct light compared to equivalent absorbed irradiances of diffuse light. High-light-grown leaves showed significant photosynthetic enhancement in direct light, while shade-adapted leaves showed no preference for direct or diffuse light at any irradiance. High-light-grown leaves with multiple palisade layers may be adapted to better utilize direct than diffuse light, while shade leaf structure does not appear to discriminate light based on its directionality. Based upon our measurements, it appears that leaf-level and canopy-level photosynthetic processes react differently to the directionality of light, and previously observed increases in canopy-level photosynthesis occur even though leaf-level photosynthesis decreases under diffuse light.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amaranthus / metabolism
  • Helianthus / metabolism
  • Light*
  • Photosynthesis / physiology
  • Photosynthesis / radiation effects*
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism*
  • Plant Leaves / radiation effects*