The contemporary relegation of conifers mainly to cold or infertile sites has been ascribed to low competitive ability. Lusk et al. use 3-D modelling of plant architecture and structural equation modelling to compare self-shading and light interception potential of seedlings of six conifers and 12 angiosperm trees from temperate rainforests, and show that seedlings of conifers display only about half the effective leaf area of their angiosperm competitors, due to differences in specific leaf area, biomass distribution, leaf angles and self-shading. The superior light interception potential of angiosperm seedlings therefore probably contributes to the success of this lineage in productive environments where vegetation is structured by light competition.
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