What's Up UA? - One Tree's Architecture Reveals Secrets of a Forest, Study Finds - The Explorer: University Of Arizona

What's Up UA? - One Tree's Architecture Reveals Secrets of a Forest, Study Finds

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Saturday, August 10, 2013 6:00 pm

The researchers' results, published in the August issue of the scientific journal Ecology Letters, have important implications for models used by scientists to assess how trees influence ecosystems across the globe. 

 
Studies like this enable scientists to refine models used to assess and predict functions that cannot be directly measured for an entire forest, for example how much carbon dioxide and oxygen the forest exchanges with the atmosphere and how much water the trees lose through evaporation.  
 
According to the authors, their study is the first empirical test of a theory UA ecology professor Brian Enquist helped develop in 1998. That theory holds that a tree's branching structure – specifically, the width and length of its branches – predicts how much carbon and water a tree exchanges with the environment in relation to its overall size, independently of the species. 
 
"This theory can be used to scale the size of plants to their function, such as amount of photosynthesis, water loss and respiration, especially in light of climate change," said Lisa Patrick Bentley, who led the research, funded by the National Science Foundation, as part of a postdoctoral fellowship in Enquist's lab. "If you were to look at an entire forest and wanted to know how much carbon this forest puts out, our study supports the idea that you might only have to look at the properties of a few trees, representing the smallest and the largest, to figure this out."
 
"All of the tree species we studied have very similar branching patterns regardless of their difference in appearance," she said. "For example, even though a piñon pine tree looks very different from a maple tree, there are similar general ecological, biological and physical principles that have resulted in a similar branching architecture across those species over the course of evolution."
 
Bentley and her team tested this prediction in five different species of trees: maple, oak, balsa, Ponderosa pine and piñon pine. They found the theory to be correct in that it allows for predictions about a tree's function depending on its size, and also in that the theory's principles apply across species, despite their differences in appearance. 
 
"There is a relationship between the size and shape of branches," Bentley said. "They grow within proportion. Take a pine tree, for example: It has the general shape of a cone, while an oak tree looks like more like an inverted cone. When you think about the many different shapes of trees, I think it's pretty amazing that you get this correlation between such different looking trees." 
 
For their study, the researchers harvested a total of nine specimens from forest areas set aside for research purposes. A team of undergraduate and graduate student researchers dissected the trees down to the last twig, counting the number of branches, the number of branching points, or nodes, and measuring the length and diameter of each branch. 
 
The work also confirmed an idea first proposed by Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci.
 
"If you imagine collapsing all of a tree's outermost branches into one cylinder, that cylinder would be the size of the trunk," Bentley said. "According to Leonardo's rule, the total area of branches is conserved as you go from the trunk all the way to the branches at the top."
 
At the same time, the experiments revealed that actual tree branching patterns are more varied and complex than predicted by the theory.
 
"The theory assumes branching patterns based on fractals, which is the same perfectly symmetrical 'Y' branching pattern repeating over and over, but trees don't look like that," said Bentley, who currently is working in Peru as part of her research through a postdoctoral fellowship the University of Oxford. "If you look at two trees that are the same height and belong to the same species, you'll see more variability: one branch might branch two times, but its sister branch might branch three or four times."
 
"After testing the theory empirically, we conclude that generally speaking, the theory works well, but in some aspects it needs to be modified to incorporate more variation among species," said Bentley. "Based on our results, we think the theory should be modified to include asymmetrical branching."

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

More about

More about

Welcome to the discussion.

MOS: Monsoon Season

We asked the community about the Monsoon Season.

Wednesday 06/11/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Undergrads Conducting Microgravity Research Aboard NASA's G-Force One

Monday 06/09/2014

What's up UA? - UA to Host U.S. and Mexico Officials Exploring Collaborations in Education, Innovation, Research

Thursday 06/05/2014

What's Up UA? - New Wilderness Medicine Class Hones Patient Care Skills in Rugged Conditions

Tuesday 06/03/2014

Track Cats Send Eight Athletes to TrackTown USA

Monday 06/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Bringing a Spacecraft Back From the Dead

Friday 05/30/2014

What's Up UA? - Heart Attack Patient Defies Odds with Tailored Surgical Treatment at UA Medical Center

Thursday 05/29/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Marketing Students Win National AT&T Competition

Tuesday 05/27/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists Discover Genetic Basis of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton

Friday 05/23/2014

What's up UA? - Four UA Students Picked for Pat Tillman Foundation Scholarships

Wednesday 05/21/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists Discover Genetic Basis of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton

Monday 05/19/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Tunnels Get Carbon Fiber Makeover

Thursday 05/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Earning a UA Degree, in a Grandfather’s Memory

Tuesday 05/13/2014

What's Up UA? - UA's Phoenix Cancer Center is 'Topped Off,' Joins Award-Winning Medical School Building

Thursday 05/08/2014

What's Up UA? - University of Arizona to Offer Nation’s First Bachelor of Arts in Law

Monday 05/05/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Combating Health Disparities to Build Healthier Communities

Wednesday 04/30/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists at the UA Make Critical End-Stage Liver Disease Discovery

Friday 04/25/2014

What's Up UA? - A Century-Long Track Record of Serving Arizona and Benefiting the State's Economy

Wednesday 04/23/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Opens Nation’s First Resource Center for Student Vets Studying Health Care UA Wildcat Instant Decision Days at PCC campuses April 29-May 2

Monday 04/21/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Scientists to Begin Construction on NASA Spacecraft that will Visit Asteroid in 2018

Thursday 04/10/2014

What's Up UA? - Spring Fling Celebrates 40th Anniversary With Return to UA Mall

Monday 04/07/2014

Mauga’s Walkoff Sweeps Stanford

Thursday 04/03/2014

What's Up UA? - 4-H Programs Bring Enrichment and Learning to Thousands in Arizona

Monday 03/31/2014

What's Up UA? - The Viruses You Don't Know About (Yet)

Tuesday 03/25/2014

What's Up UA? - Twice Torn Apart: A UA Alumna's Road to the Paralympic Games

Tuesday 03/18/2014

What's Up UA? - Tucson Village Farm Honored as Model Program for the Nation

Friday 03/14/2014

What's Up UA? - Several UA Graduate Programs Reach New Heights

Tuesday 03/11/2014

What's Up UA? - Olympics Interns Share Sochi Experiences

Friday 03/07/2014

What's Up UA? - Seeing Cancer Differently

Wednesday 03/05/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Offers Accelerated Bachelor's to Master’s Program in Environmental Health Sciences

Tuesday 03/04/2014

What's Up UA? - Third-Ranked Men's Basketball Heads to Corvallis to Face OSU

Friday 02/28/2014

What's Up UA? - UA College of Optical Sciences to Celebrate 50th Anniversary With Laser Fun Day

Thursday 02/27/2014

What's Up UA? - Obesity-Related Gut Bacteria Higher in People in Northern Climes

Monday 02/24/2014

Wildcats Sweep Sunday Doubleheader, Series From Alcorn State

Thursday 02/20/2014

What's Up UA? - First-Year UA Minority Student Retention Rate Highest Ever

Monday 02/17/2014

What's Up UA? - The Flu and You

Friday 02/14/2014

What's Up UA? - Miller to Add to Arizona’s USA Basketball Legacy

Wednesday 02/12/2014

What's Up UA? - $10M Gift to Optical Sciences is Largest Gift for Scholarships in UA History

Monday 02/10/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Study Shows Aggressive Management of Gunshot Wounds to Brain Significantly Increases Survival

Thursday 02/06/2014

Arizona Football Announces 2014 NLI Class

Tuesday 02/04/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Wind Quintet is Finalist in National Competition

Thursday 01/30/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Undergraduate Researcher Earns Prestigious National Award

Tuesday 01/28/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Renewed as a Tillman Foundation Partner

Thursday 01/23/2014

What's Up UA? - Thousands to Celebrate Chinese New Year at UA

Tuesday 01/21/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Mathematician Earns Presidential Early Career Award

Friday 01/17/2014

What's Up UA? - Prefer dry heat to arctic chill? Genetics might be the reason

Thursday 01/16/2014

Four Players Added to January Enrollee Group

Wednesday 01/15/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Study Shows Intensive Exercise Training Program for Dementia Patients Improves Care in Clinical Setting

Monday 01/13/2014

What's Up UA? - UA-Developed Avatar is Helping to Screen New Arrivals at Bucharest Airport

Friday 01/10/2014

What's Up UA? - The First and the Best in More Than Basketball
Spacer4px

Follow us on Facebook

Online poll