Temporal dynamics of light and nitrogen vertical distributions in canopies of sunflower, kenaf and cynara

Archontoulis, S.V.; Vos, J.; Yin, X.; Bastiaans, L.; Danalatos, N.G.; Struik, P.C.


To enhance eco-physiological and modelling studies, we quantified vertical distributions of light and nitrogen in canopies of three Mediterranean bio-energy crops: sunflower (Helianthus annuus), kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus) and cynara (Cynara cardunculus). Field crops were grown with and without water stress in 2008 and 2009. Canopy vertical distributions of leaf area index (LAI), photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), specific leaf area (SLA), nitrogen concentration (Nconc) and specific leaf nitrogen (SLN) were assessed over time for each crop × year × water input combination. Light and nitrogen distributions were quantified by the Beer's law (exponential model) and extinction coefficients for light (KL) and nitrogen (KN) were calculated. Within a year, KL did not change significantly over the studied period in all irrigated crops, but differences in KL were significant between years (sunflower: 0.74 vs. 0.89; kenaf: 0.62 vs. 0.71; cynara: 0.77). KL estimates were always lower (-48 to -65%) in water-stressed sunflower and kenaf crops because of the reduction in leaf angle. These results should be taken into account, when simulating water-limited biomass production. Vertical SLN distributions were found in canopies when LAI was >1.5 (40 from 51 cases). These distributions were significantly correlated with the cumulative LAI from the top (r2 = 0.75–0.81; P <0.05), providing parameters to upscale photosynthesis from leaf to canopy levels. Vertical SLN distributions followed species-specific patterns over the crop cycle and varied less compared to PAR distributions between years. Lastly, we observed strong associations between SLN and PAR distributions in irrigated sunflower and kenaf canopies (r2 > 0.66; P <0.001). However, observed SLN distributions were less steep than the distributions that would maximize canopy photosynthesis