Erika Mudrak - Forest Canopy Lab  

University of Rochester, Rochester, NY




A change in canopy shape, resulting from gaps caused by a fallen tree or other event, will change the intensity of light available to neighboring trees, particularly to the leaves on lower branches and on smaller trees. Prior research indicates that light quality affects a syndrome of individual leaf characteristics (chemical as well as morphological), which in turn affect the quality of leaf litter as those leaves fall to the ground. The specific leaf area (SLA) of a leaf (surface area/dry weight) has been shown to be associated with increased mesophyll development and higher nitrogen concentration.

I studied the effects of canopy gap light quality on the characteristics of leaf litter. I compared leaves collected from litter traps in areas of high illumination to those leaves from nearby traps under closed canopies. I calculated the SLA of several species and compared the leaves from the higher light environment to those leaves grown in a darker forest. I also explored the use of a leaf as a light indicator of the environment that it grew in throughout the growing season. Using equations relating light environment to SLA, I inferred the light environment that each leaf grew in throughout the summer.

Perhaps a change in forest canopy structure affects not just standing, living trees, but the composition of litter quality, affecting the universe of organisms that feed off of it, or otherwise use it.


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