Objectives: Just as people with the same weight can have different body builds, woods with the same wood density can have different anatomies. Here, our aim was to assess the magnitude of anatomical variation within a restricted range of wood density and explore its potential ecological implications. Methods: Twig wood of 69 angiosperm tree and shrub species was analyzed. Species were selected so that wood density varied within a relatively narrow range (0.38-0.62 g cm-3). Anatomical traits quantified included wood tissue fractions (fibres, axial parenchyma, ray parenchyma, vessels, and conduits with maximum lumen diameter below 15 μm), vessel properties, and pith area. To search for potential ecological correlates of anatomical variation the species were sampled across rainfall and temperature contrasts, and several other ecologically-relevant traits were measured (plant height, leaf area to sapwood area ratio, and modulus of elasticity). Results: Despite the limited range in wood density, substantial anatomical variation was observed. Total parenchyma fraction varied from 0.12 to 0.66 and fibre fraction from 0.20 to 0.74, and these two traits were strongly inversely correlated (r = -0.86, P < 0.001). Parenchyma was weakly (0.24 ≤|r|≤ 0.35, P < 0.05) or not associated with vessel properties nor with height, leaf area to sapwood area ratio, and modulus of elasticity (0.24 ≤|r|≤ 0.41, P < 0.05). However, vessel traits were fairly well correlated with height and leaf area to sapwood area ratio (0.47 ≤|r|≤ 0.65, all P < 0.001). Modulus of elasticity was mainly driven by fibre wall plus vessel wall fraction rather than by the parenchyma component. Conclusions: Overall, there seem to be at least three axes of variation in xylem, substantially independent of each other: a wood density spectrum, a fibre-parenchyma spectrum, and a vessel area spectrum. The fibre-parenchyma spectrum does not yet have any clear or convincing ecological interpretation.
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Erratum can be found in PLoS ONE volume 10(9), article e0139496, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0139496