Measuring Light and Photosynthesis (PAR): Complicated, but Worth It (Part 2)
In part 2 of our PAR Measurement Series (read part 1), Dr. Gaylon S. Campbell discusses the impact of leaf arrangement, measuring light in a canopy, and why we measure PAR.
Leaf display (angular orientation) affects light interception. Strictly vertical or horizontally oriented leaves are extreme cases, but a large range of angles occurs. Vertical leaves absorb less radiation when the sun is at a high angle, and more radiation when the sun is at a low angle; the converse is true for horizontal leaves. The greatest photosynthetic capacity can be achieved by a change from nearly vertical to nearly horizontal leaves lower down. This arrangement leads to effective beam penetration and a more even distribution of light.
Leaf area index (LAI), a measure of the foliage in a canopy, is the canopy property that has most effect on interception of radiation. LAI usually ranges between 1 and 12. Values of 3-4 are typical for horizontal-leafed species such as alfalfa; values of 5-10 occur in vertical leafed species such as grasses and cereals, or in plants with highly clumped leaves, such as spruce. The highest LAI’s usually occur in coniferous forests, which have overlapping generations of leaves. These forests have a photosynthetic advantage due to the longevity of individual needles.
Measuring Light in a Canopy
Variability of leaf distribution in canopies results in wide variations in light. To determine light at any height in the canopy, PAR must be measured at a number of locations and then averaged. Direct methods of measurement include using the horizontal line sensors whose output is the spatial average over the sensor length. The appropriate sensor length or number of sampling points depends on plant spacing.
Indirect methods for measuring canopy structure rely on the fact that canopy structure and solar position determine the radiation within the canopy. Because it’s hard to measure three-dimensional distribution of leaves in a canopy, models for light interception and tree growth often assume random distribution throughout the canopy; however, leaves are generally aggregated or grouped.
Why Measure Photosynthesis or PAR?
The ability to measure PAR assists with understanding the unique spatial patterns that different plants have for displaying photosynthetic surfaces. Since effective use of PAR influences plant production, knowledge of the structural diversity of canopies aids research on plant productivity. One result: researchers can use information about different plants’ abilities to intercept and use PAR to engineer canopy structure modifications that significantly improve crop yield.
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