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J Exp Bot. 2013 Nov;64(15):4793-815. doi: 10.1093/jxb/ert279. Epub 2013 Sep 7.

Integrative biomechanics for tree ecology: beyond wood density and strength.

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AgroParisTech, UMR 1092 LERFOB, 54000 Nancy, France.


Functional ecology has long considered the support function as important, but its biomechanical complexity is only just being elucidated. We show here that it can be described on the basis of four biomechanical traits, two safety traits against winds and self-buckling, and two motricity traits involved in sustaining an upright position, tropic motion velocity (MV) and posture control (PC). All these traits are integrated at the tree scale, combining tree size and shape together with wood properties. The assumption of trait constancy has been used to derive allometric scaling laws, but it was more recently found that observing their variations among environments and functional groups, or during ontogeny, provides more insights into adaptive syndromes of tree shape and wood properties. However, oversimplified expressions have often been used, possibly concealing key adaptive drivers. An extreme case of oversimplification is the use of wood basic density as a proxy for safety. Actually, as wood density is involved in stiffness, loads, and construction costs, the impact of its variations on safety is non-trivial. Moreover, other wood features, especially the microfibril angle (MFA), are also involved. Furthermore, wood is not only stiff and strong, but it also acts as a motor for MV and PC. The relevant wood trait for this is maturation strain asymmetry. Maturation strains vary with cell-wall characteristics such as MFA, rather than with wood density. Finally, the need for further studies about the ecological relevance of branching patterns, motricity traits, and growth responses to mechanical loads is discussed.


Biomechanics; ecological strategy; gravitropism; shape; size; trees; wood.

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