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The vertical profile in leaf photosynthetic capacity was investigated in a terra firme rain forest in central Amazonia. Measurements of photosynthesis were made on leaves at five levels in the canopy, and a model was fitted to describe photosynthetic capacity for each level. In addition, vertical profiles of photosynthetic photon flux density, leaf nitrogen concentration and specific leaf area were measured. The derived parameters for maximum rate of electron transport (J(max)) and maximum rate of carboxylation by Rubisco (V-cmax) increased significantly with canopy height (P < 0.05). The highest J(max) for a single canopy level was measured at the penultimate canopy level (20 m) and was 103.9 mu mol m(-2) s(-1) +/- 24.2 (SE). The highest V-cmax per canopy height was recorded at the top canopy level (24 m) and was 42.8 +/- 5.9 mu mol m(-2) s(- 1). Values of J(max) and V-cmax at ground level were 35.8 +/- 3.3 and 20.5 +/- 1.3 mu mol m(-2) s(-1), respectively. The increase in photosynthetic capacity with increasing canopy height was strongly correlated with leaf nitrogen concentration when examined on a leaf area basis, but was only weakly correlated on a mass basis. The correlation on an area basis can be largely explained by the concomitant decrease in specific leaf area with increasing height. Apparent daytime leaf respiration, on an area basis, also increased significantly with canopy height (P < 0.05). We conclude that canopy photosynthetic capacity can be represented as an average vertical profile, perturbations of which may be explained by variations in the environmental variables driving photosynthesis

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