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Am J Bot. 1998 Feb;85(2):266.

Ontogenetic changes in size, allometry, and mechanical design of tropical rain forest trees.


Size, allometry, and mechanical design were measured for trees of three canopy species in a tropical rain forest in French Guiana. Mechanical design was expressed as the safety factor, using the elastic-stability model, and the wind resistance factor, using the constant-stress model. Changes with ontogeny were described as regressions using stem diameter as the independent variable, and they were compared between species. Height, crown size, and the wind resistance factor increased with ontogeny. The safety factor decreased to a minimum and then increased continuously in thicker trees. The crown width/height ratio did not change with ontogeny. Interspecific differences in allometry and mechanical design were related to the adult stature of the species, and not to shade tolerance. The short stature species (Vouacapoua americana) was less slender (height:DBH [stem diameter at 1.3 m] ratio) and had a higher crown width/height ratio than the tall stature species (Goupia glabra and Dicorynia guianensis). Vouacapoua had a higher safety factor, but a similar wind resistance factor. The safety factors of our study species were lower than those of two temperate tree species because of a higher slenderness. Differences in safety factors between tropical and temperate trees may result from unrealistic assumptions of the elastic-stability model, and may also be related to lower light levels and-or wind rates in the tropics.

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