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Journal Articles Annals of Botany Year : 2022

Trunk spines of trees: a physical defence against bark removal and climbing by mammals?


Background and Aims The defensive role of spines has previously been related to leaves, young shoots and reproductive organs. However, some woody species harbour spines on their trunks where none of those organs are present. Several explanations are plausible: they could be (1) climbing aids, (2) remnants from defence of leaves or reproductive organs during an earlier development phase, or (3) an as-yet undescribed defence. Here we investigate whether they could play a role against either bark feeding or preventing climbing animals accessing food resources in the tree canopy. Methods We described 31 woody species with spines on their trunk, growing in a botanical garden, to test whether morphological strategies could be identified and suggest what could be their most likely function. As testing their function is difficult experimentally for large pools of species, we performed virtual experiments to evaluate the potential roles of trunk spines against bark removal and climbing animals of different sizes. We then compared for each species and their confamilial non-spiny species the nutritional profiles of leaf, bark and reproductive organs to test whether trunk spines were associated with a nutritious organ (more likely targeted by herbivores). Key Results We identified four morphological syndromes of trunk spines. Two corresponded to already known functions (anchorage for lianas and crown defence against large ground mammals), and two strategies are newly described trait syndromes with traits suggesting a defence against bark feeding and climbing mammals. By simulation, we show how each strategy could translate into defence against debarking and prevent herbivores from climbing. Conclusions We identified trunk spine strategies and the criteria to classify them, their most likely function and the likely feeding mode and size of animal against which different trunk spine strategies may be effective. We discuss further perspectives for testing their function and their ecological significance.
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hal-03840006 , version 1 (04-11-2022)



Théodore Lefebvre, Tristan Charles-Dominique, Kyle Tomlinson. Trunk spines of trees: a physical defence against bark removal and climbing by mammals?. Annals of Botany, 2022, 129 (5), pp.541-554. ⟨10.1093/aob/mcac025⟩. ⟨hal-03840006⟩
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