Variability in leaf optical properties among 26 species from a broad range of habitats

TitleVariability in leaf optical properties among 26 species from a broad range of habitats
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsKnapp, AK, Carter, GA
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Pagination940 -946
Accession NumberKNZ00653

Leaves from 26 species with growth forms from annual herbs to trees were collected from open, intermediate, and shaded understory habitats in Mississippi and Kansas, USA. Leaf optical properties including reflectance, transmittance, and absorptance in visible and near infrared (NIR) wavelengths were measured along with leaf thickness and specific leaf mass (SLM). These leaf properties and internal light scattering have been reported to vary with light availability in studies that have focused on a limited number of species. Our objective was to determine whether these patterns in leaf optics and light availability were consistent when a greater number of species were evaluated. Leaf thickness and SLM varied by tenfold among species sampled, but within-habitat variance was high. Although there was a strong trend toward thicker leaves in open habitats, only SLM was significantly greater in open vs. understory habitats. In contrast, leaf optical properties were strikingly similar among habitats. Reflectance and reflectance/transmittance in the NIR were used to estimate internal light scattering and there were strong relationships (r1 > 0.65) between these optical properties and leaf thickness. We concluded that leaf thickness, which did not vary consistently among habitats, was the best predictor of NIR reflectance and internal light scattering. However, because carbon allocation to leaves was lower in understory species (low SLM) yet gross optical properties were similar among all habitats, the energy investment by shade leaves required to achieve optical equivalence with sun leaves was lower. Differences in leaf longevity and growth form within a habitat may help explain the lack of consistent patterns in leaf optics as the number of species sampled increases.