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Am J Bot. 2006 Feb;93(2):179-87. doi: 10.3732/ajb.93.2.179.

A synchronous increase in hydraulic conductive capacity and mechanical support in conifers with relatively uniform xylem structure.

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  • 1University of Maine, Department of Forest Ecosystem Science, 5755 Nutting Hall, Orono, Maine 04469-5755 USA.


The dual function provided by longitudinal tracheids in conifers has led to a generally held trade-off concept that increasing wall thickness and/or volume of latewood tracheids improves mechanical support, while increasing cell diameter and/or volume of earlywood tracheids enhances conductive potential. Yet, some conifers have either uniform cell structure across the growth ring or, at most, a small amount of latewood. How do these trees accomplish the needs for increasing support and conduction with height growth? We examined Metasequoia glyptostroboides, a species that we previously demonstrated improves its mechanical properties with increasing age without a change in specific gravity or secondary wall microfibril angle. In this paper, we showed that lignin and extractive contents are not contributing factors, and through composite structure analysis, we eliminated a role for tracheid length. Using micromorphometric analysis, we demonstrated that as cell diameter increases, total primary wall decreases, secondary wall increases, and strength and conductive capacity increase with no change in specific gravity. Meta-analysis using other species of Cupressaceae, Podocarpaceae, and Araucariaceae provided strong corroborative evidence for this design strategy.

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