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Keywords:

  • height;
  • phylogenetic independent contrasts;
  • phylogenetic signal;
  • soil moisture;
  • trait correlations;
  • water potential;
  • wood density;
  • vessels

Summary

  • • 
    Wood density and vessel characteristics are functionally interrelated, yet they may have distinct ecological associations.
  • • 
    In a comparative study of 51 angiosperm species ranging from chaparral shrubs to riparian trees, we examined relationships among wood density and vessel traits and their ecological correlates.
  • • 
    Mean vessel lumen area and vessel density (number mm−2) varied widely (7- to 10-fold). In multivariate analyses, both vessel traits were negatively correlated with wood density, which varied more narrowly (< 2-fold). Vessel density and lumen area were inversely related across species, allowing a broad range of vessel traits within a narrow range of wood density. Phylogenetic independent contrasts indicated correlated inverse evolutionary change in vessel traits.
  • • 
    Each trait had a distinct pattern of ecological correlation – wood density was most strongly associated with soil water, and vessel traits showed contrasting relationships with plant height. Within a narrow range of wood density, there was significant variation in vessel traits. Given their particular ecological associations, the results suggest that wood density and vessel traits describe two distinct ecological axes.