Light partitioning among species and species replacement in early successional grasslands

Marinus J.A. Werger, Tadaki Hirose, Heinjo J. During, Gerrit W. Heil, Kouki Hikosaka, Takehiko Ito, U. G. Nachinshonhor, Dai Nagamatsu, Katsuhiko Shibasaki, Seiki Takatsuki, Jan W. Van Rheenen, Niels P.R. Anten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


We studied canopy structure, shoot architecture and light harvesting efficiencies of the species (photon flux captured per unit above-ground plant mass) in a series of exclosures of different age (up to 4.5 yr) in originally heavily grazed grassland in N Japan. Vegetation height and Leaf Area Index (LAI) increased in the series and Zoysia japonica, the dominant in the beginning, was replaced by the much taller Miscanthus sinensis. We showed how this displacement in dominance can be explained by inherent constraints on the above-ground architecture of these two species. In all stands light capture of plants increased with their above-ground biomass but taller species were not necessarily more efficient in light harvesting. Some subordinate species grew disproportionally large leaf areas and persisted in the shady undergrowth. Some other species first grew taller and managed to stay in the better-lit parts of the canopy, but ultimately failed to match the height growth of their neighbours in this early successional series. Their light harvesting efficiencies declined and this probably led to their exclusion. By contrast, species that maintained their position high in the canopy managed to persist in the vegetation despite their relatively low light harvesting efficiencies. In the tallest stands 'later successional' species had higher light harvesting efficiencies for the same plant height than 'early successional' species which was mostly the result of the greater area to mass ratio (specific leaf area, SLA) of their leaves. This shows how plant stature, plasticity in above-ground biomass partitioning, and architectural constraints determine the ability of plants to efficiently capture light, which helps to explain species replacement in this early successional series.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-626
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Vegetation Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2002 Oct


  • Canopy structure
  • Grazing
  • Light acquisition efficiency
  • Photon flux
  • Plant architecture
  • Plant size inequality
  • Plasticity


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