Biomechanical Action and Biological Functions

Abstract : The main biological function of reaction wood is to act as " muscle " for trees, enabling them to control their posture. The key property to achieve this function is the development of high mechanical stress during the formation of reaction wood cells, called " maturation strains ". Actually, reaction wood formation is basically the asymmetric formation of wood around the tree circumference, with higher maturation strains on the side where reaction wood is formed than on the opposite side. This asymmetry enables stems to bend upward or to compensate for the downward bending induced by gravity. At the cross section level, the performance in this biological function is linked not only to the magnitude of this asymmetry but also to an effect of the cross-sectional size (diameter) of the stem. Eccentric growth and variations in wood mechanical stiffness are second order effects that can modify this performance. Differences in maturation strains between reaction and non-reaction woods are related to their specific cell wall structure and composition. The swelling of the cell wall matrix during maturation and the effect of microfibril angle explain the differences in maturation strains between normal and compression wood. However, this mechanism fails in explaining the high maturation shrinkage of tension wood, and several hypotheses at the molecular levels are still under debate. How trees perceive their gravitational disequilibrium is also an open question for physiologists. Integrative biomechanical modelling (from the polymer level to the cell wall, cross section and whole tree levels) enables defining key variables that explain the performance of reaction wood as a system that insures the stem motricity. Maturation strains can be precisely measured only in recently formed wood at the tree surface, but their changes during the whole tree life can also be estimated by retrospective dendrochronological analysis through structural markers of reaction wood. Lastly, wood in living trees ensures general storage, defence, vascular and skeletal functions, that ask general questions about synergies and trade-offs as the structural characteristics of reaction wood can affect all these functions.
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Meriem Fournier, Tancrède Alméras, Bruno Clair, Joseph Gril. Biomechanical Action and Biological Functions. The Biology of Reaction Wood, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, pp.139 - 169, 2014, 978-3-642-10813-6. ⟨10.1007/978-3-642-10814-3_5⟩. ⟨hal-01452085⟩

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