Journal Article

Root biomechanics in <i>Rhizophora mangle</i>: anatomy, morphology and ecology of mangrove’s flying buttresses

Rodrigo Méndez-Alonzo, Coral Moctezuma, Víctor R. Ordoñez, Guillermo Angeles, Armando J. Martínez and Jorge López-Portillo

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 115, issue 5, pages 833-840
Published in print April 2015 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online February 2015 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Root biomechanics in Rhizophora mangle: anatomy, morphology and ecology of mangrove’s flying buttresses

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims Rhizophora species of mangroves have a conspicuous system of stilt-like roots (rhizophores) that grow from the main stem and resemble flying buttresses. As such, the development of rhizophores can be predicted to be important for the effective transmission of dynamic loads from the top of the tree to the ground, especially where the substrate is unstable, as is often the case in the habitats where Rhizophora species typically grow. This study tests the hypothesis that rhizophore architecture in R. mangle co-varies with their proximity to the main stem, and with stem size and crown position.

Methods The allometry and wood mechanical properties of R. mangle (red mangrove) trees growing in a mangrove basin forest within a coastal lagoon in Mexico were compared with those of coexisting, non-buttressed mangrove trees of Avicennia germinans. The anatomy of rhizophores was related to mechanical stress due to crown orientation (static load) and to prevailing winds (dynamic load) at the study site.

Key Results Rhizophores buttressed between 10 and 33 % of tree height. There were significant and direct scaling relationships between the number, height and length of rhizophores vs. basal area, tree height and crown area. Wood mechanical resistance was significantly higher in the buttressed R. mangle (modulus of elasticity, MOE = 18·1 ± 2 GPa) than in A. germinans (MOE = 12·1 ± 0·5 GPa). Slenderness ratios (total height/stem diameter) were higher in R. mangle, but there were no interspecies differences in critical buckling height. When in proximity to the main stem, rhizophores had a lower length/height ratio, higher eccentricity and higher xylem/bark and pith proportions. However, there were no directional trends with regard to prevailing winds or tree leaning.

Conclusions In comparison with A. germinans, a tree species with wide girth and flare at the base, R. mangle supports a thinner stem of higher mechanical resistance that is stabilized by rhizophores resembling flying buttresses. This provides a unique strategy to increase tree slenderness and height in the typically unstable substrate on which the trees grow, at a site that is subject to frequent storms.

Keywords: Allometry; Avicennia germinans; biomechanics; flying buttresses; mangroves; Mexico; modulus of elasticity; Rhizophora mangle; root anatomy; rhizophores; thigmomorphogenesis

Journal Article.  4398 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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