The anatomical basis of the link between density and mechanical strength in mangrove branches
Tree branches are important as they support the canopy, which controls photosynthetic carbon gain and determines ecological interactions such as competition with neighbours. Mangrove trees are subject to high wind speeds, strong tidal flows and waves that can damage their branches. The survival and establishment of mangroves partly depend on the structural and mechanical characteristics of their branches. In addition, mangroves are exposed to soils that vary in salinity. Highly saline conditions can increase the tension in the water column, imposing mechanical stresses on the xylem vessels. Here, we investigated how mechanical strength, assessed as the modulus of elasticity (MOE) and the modulus of rupture (MOR), and density relate to the anatomical characteristics of intact mangrove branches from southeast Queensland and whether the mechanical strength of branches varies among mangrove species. Mechanical strength was positively correlated with density of mangrove intact branches. Mechanical strength (MOE) varied among species, with Avicennia marina (Forssk.) Vierh. branches having the highest mechanical strength (2079 ~c 176 MPa), and Rhizophora stylosa Griff. and Bruguiera gymnorrhiza (L.) Savigny ex Lam. and Poiret having the lowest mechanical strength (536.8 ~c 39.2 MPa in R. stylosa and 554 ~c 58.2 MPa in B. gymnorrhiza). High levels of mechanical strength were associated with reductions in xylem vessel lumen area, pith content and bark content, and positively associated with increases in fibre wall thickness. The associations between mechanical strength and anatomical characteristics in mangrove branches suggest trade-offs between mechanical strength and water supply, which are linked to tree growth and survival.