Photosynthetic activity, chloroplast ultrastructure, and leaf characteristics of high-light and low-light plants and of sun and shade leaves

Photosynth Res. 1981 Jun;2(2):115-41. doi: 10.1007/BF00028752.


The photosynthetic CO2-fixation rates, chlorophyll content, chloroplast ultrastructure and other leaf characteristics (e.g. variable fluorescence, stomata density, soluble carbohydrate content) were studied in a comparative way in sun and shade leaves of beech (Fagus sylvatica) and in high-light and low-light seedlings. 1. Sun leaves of the beech possess a smaller leaf area, higher dry weight, lower water content, higher stomata density, higher chlorophyll a/b ratios and are thicker than the shade leaves. Sun leaves on the average contain more chlorophyll in a leaf area unit; the shade leaf exhibits more chlorophyll on a dry weight basis. Sun leaves show higher rates for dark respiration and a higher light saturation of photosynthetic CO2-fixation. Above 2000 lux they are more efficient in photosynthetic quantum conversion than the shade leaves. 2. The development of HL-radish plants proceeds much faster than that of LL-plants. The cotyledons of HL-plants show a higher dry weight, lower water content, a higher ratio of chlorophyll a/b and a higher gross photosynthesis rate than the cotyledons of the LL-plants, which possess a higher chlorophyll content per dry weight basis. The large area of the HL-cotyledon on the one hand, as well as the higher stomata density and the higher respiration rate in the LL-cotyledon on the other hand, are not in agreement with the characteristics of sun and shade leaves respectively. 3. The development, growth and wilting of wheat leaves and the appearance of the following leaves (leaf succession) is much faster at high quanta fluence rates than in weak light. The chlorophyll content is higher in the HL-leaf per unit leaf area and in the LL-leaf per g dry weight. There are no differences in the stomata density and leaf area between the HL- and LL-leaf. There are fewer differences between HL- and LL-leaves than in beech or radish leaves. 4. The chloroplast ultrastructure of shade-type chloroplasts (shade leaves, LL-leaves) is not only characterized by a much higher number of thylakoids per granum and a higher stacking degree of thylakoids, but also by broader grana than in sun-type chloroplasts (sun leaves, HL-leaves). The chloroplasts of sun leaves and of HL-leaves exhibit large starch grains. 5. Shade leaves and LL-leaves exhibit a higher maximum chlorophyll fluorescence and it takes more time for the fluorescence to decline to the steady state than in sun and HL-leaves. The variable fluorescence VF (ratio of fluorescence decrease to steady state fluorescence) is always higher in the sun and HL-leaf of the same physiological stage (maximum chlorophyll content of the leaf) than in the shade and LL-leaf. The fluorescence emission spectra of sun and HL-leaves show a higher proportion of chlorophyli fluorescence in the second emission maximum F2 than shade and LL-leaves. 6. The level of soluble carbohydrates (reducing sugars) is significantly higher in sun and HL-leaves than in shade and LL-leaves and even reflects changes in the amounts of the daily incident light. 7. Some but not all characteristics of mature sun and shade leaves are found in HL- and LL-leaves of seedlings. Leaf thickness, dry weight, chlorophyll content, soluble carbohydrate level, photosynthetic CO2-fixation, height and width of grana stacks and starch content, are good parameters to describe the differences between LL- and HL-leaves; with some reservations concerning age and physiological stage of leaf, a/b ratios, chlorophyll content per leaf area unit and the variable fluorescence are also suitable.