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J Theor Biol. 2009 Jul 7;259(1):1-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2009.03.007. Epub 2009 Mar 14.

Plant physiology in theory and practice: an analysis of the WBE model for vascular plants.

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Department TeSAF, Treeline Ecology Research Unit, University of Padova, Legnaro, PD, Italy.


The theoretical model of West, Brown and Enquist (hereafter WBE) proposed the fractal geometry of the transport system as the origin of the allometric scaling laws observed in nature. The WBE model has either been criticized for some restrictive and biologically unrealistic constraints or its reliability debated on the evidence of empirical tests. In this work, we revised the structure of the WBE model for vascular plants, highlighting some critical assumptions and simplifications and discuss them with regard to empirical evidence from plant anatomy and physiology. We conclude that the WBE model had the distinct merit of shedding light on some important features such as conduit tapering. Nonetheless, it is over-simplistic and a revised model would be desirable with an ontogenetic perspective that takes some important phenomena into account, such as the transformation of the inner sapwood into heartwood and the effect of hydraulic constraints in limiting the growth in height.

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