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Ann Bot. 2014 Sep;114(4):739-52.

Influence of the variation of geometrical and topological traits on light interception efficiency of apple trees: sensitivity analysis and metamodelling for ideotype definition.



The impact of a fruit tree's architecture on its performance is still under debate, especially with regard to the definition of varietal ideotypes and the selection of architectural traits in breeding programmes. This study aimed at providing proof that a modelling approach can contribute to this debate, by using in silico exploration of different combinations of traits and their consequences on light interception, here considered as one of the key parameters to optimize fruit tree production.


The variability of organ geometrical traits, previously described in a bi-parental population, was used to simulate 1- to 5-year-old apple trees (Malus × domestica). Branching sequences along trunks observed during the first year of growth of the same hybrid trees were used to initiate the simulations, and hidden semi-Markov chains previously parameterized were used in subsequent years. Tree total leaf area (TLA) and silhouette to total area ratio (STAR) values were estimated, and a sensitivity analysis was performed, based on a metamodelling approach and a generalized additive model (GAM), to analyse the relative impact of organ geometry and lateral shoot types on STAR.


A larger increase over years in TLA mean and variance was generated by varying branching along trunks than by varying organ geometry, whereas the inverse was observed for STAR, where mean values stabilized from year 3 to year 5. The internode length and leaf area had the highest impact on STAR, whereas long sylleptic shoots had a more significant effect than proleptic shoots. Although the GAM did not account for interactions, the additive effects of the geometrical factors explained >90% of STAR variation, but much less in the case of branching factors.


This study demonstrates that the proposed modelling approach could contribute to screening architectural traits and their relative impact on tree performance, here viewed through light interception. Even though trait combinations and antagonism will need further investigation, the approach opens up new perspectives for breeding and genetic selection to be assisted by varietal ideotype definition.

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