Bark ecology of twigs vs. main stems: functional traits across eighty-five species of angiosperms

Julieta A. Rosell*, Matiss Castorena, Claire A. Laws, Mark Westoby

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    37 Citations (Scopus)


    Although produced by meristems that are continuous along the stem length, marked differences in bark morphology and in microenvironment would suggest that main stem and twig bark might differ ecologically. Here, we examined: (1) how closely associated main stem and twig bark traits were, (2) how these associations varied across sites, and (3) used these associations to infer functional and ecological differences between twig and main stem bark. We measured density, water content, photosynthesis presence/absence, total, outer, inner, and relative thicknesses of main stem and twig bark from 85 species of angiosperms from six sites of contrasting precipitation, temperature, and fire regimes. Density and water content did not differ between main stems and twigs across species and sites. Species with thicker twig bark had disproportionately thicker main stem bark in most sites, but the slope and degree of association varied. Disproportionately thicker main stem bark for a given twig bark thickness in most fire-prone sites suggested stem protection near the ground. The savanna had the opposite trend, suggesting that selection also favors twig protection in these fire-prone habitats. A weak main stem-twig bark thickness association was observed in non fire-prone sites. The near-ubiquity of photosynthesis in twigs highlighted its likely ecological importance; variation in this activity was predicted by outer bark thickness in main stems. It seems that the ecology of twig bark can be generalized to main stem bark, but not for functions depending on the amount of bark, such as protection, storage, or photosynthesis.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1033-1043
    Number of pages11
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2015


    • allometry
    • bark density
    • bark photosynthesis
    • bark thickness
    • trait ecology


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