We studied the interaction of light and water on water-use efficiency in cork oak (Quercus suber L.) seedlings. One-year-old cork oak seedlings were grown in pots in a factorial experiment with four light treatments (68, 50, 15 and 5% of full sunlight) and two irrigation regimes: well watered (WW) and moderate drought stress (WS). Leaf predawn water potential, which was measured at the end of each of two cycles, did not differ among the light treatments. Water-use efficiency, assessed by carbon isotope composition (delta(13)C), tended to increase with increasing irradiance. The trend was similar in the WW and WS treatments, though with lower delta(13)C in all light treatments in the WW irrigation regime. Specific leaf area increased with decreasing irradiance, and was inversely correlated with delta(13)C. Thus, changes in delta(13)C could be explained in part by light-induced modifications in leaf morphology. The relationship between stomatal conductance to water vapor and net photosynthesis on a leaf area basis confirmed that seedlings in higher irradiances maintained a higher rate of carbon uptake at a particular stomatal conductance, implying that shaded seedlings have a lower water-use efficiency that is unrelated to water availability.