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Ontogenetic modulation of branch size, shape, and biomechanics produces diversity across habitats in the Bursera simaruba clade of tropical trees

Authors

  • Julieta A. Rosell,

    1. Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Tercer Circuito s/n de Ciudad Universitaria, México DF 04510, Mexico
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, New South Wales, Australia
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  • Mark E. Olson,

    Corresponding author
    • Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Tercer Circuito s/n de Ciudad Universitaria, México DF 04510, Mexico
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  • Rebeca Aguirre-Hernández,

    1. Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Circuito Escolar s/n de Ciudad Universitaria, México DF 04510, Mexico
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  • Francisco J. Sánchez-Sesma

    1. Instituto de Ingeniería, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Circuito Escolar s/n de Ciudad Universitaria, México DF 04510, Mexico
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Author for correspondence (email: molson@ibunam2.ibiologia.unam.mx)

SUMMARY

Organismal size and shape inseparably interact with tissue biomechanical properties. It is therefore essential to understand how size, shape, and biomechanics interact in ontogeny to produce morphological diversity. We estimated within species branch length-diameter allometries and reconstructed the rates of ontogenetic change along the stem in mechanical properties across the simaruba clade in the tropical tree genus Bursera, measuring 376 segments from 97 branches in nine species in neotropical dry to rain forest. In general, species with stiffer materials had longer, thinner branches, which became stiffer more quickly in ontogeny than their counterparts with more flexible materials. We found a trend from short stature and flexible tissues to tall statures and stiff tissues across an environmental gradient of increasing water availability, likely reflecting a water storage–mechanical support tradeoff. Ontogenetic variation in size, shape, and mechanics results in diversity of habits, for example, rapid length extension, sluggish diameter expansion, and flexible tissues results in a liana, as in Bursera instabilis. Even species of similar habit exhibited notable changes in tissue mechanical properties with increasing size, illustrating the inseparable relationship between organismal proportions and their tissue mechanics in the ontogeny and evolution of morphological diversity.

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