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    Climbers' CornerTree Academy

    What We Don't Know about Tree Biomechanics: A Biophysical Perspective on Why Trees Fall Down


    Engineering theory and practice can be used to assess and even predict the mechanical behavior of trees in ways that have helped reduce the probability of tree failure and thus reduce or avoid damage to private and public property. This approach continues to become more sophisticated and dependable as our knowledge about the behavior of trees increases and as we learn more about the mechanical properties of plant tissues in general.  However, there are significant and important gaps in what we know about plant biomechanics, in general, and about tree mechanics, in particular. This lecture will discuss and illustrate seven aspects of tree biomechanics that require more research if our ability to understand tree mechanics is to improve (the viscoelastic behavior of wood, structural and material anisotropy and heterogeneity, temperature dependencies, intrinsic biological variation, the effects of drag and dynamic bending, mechanisms for damping, and the mechanics of root anchorage).


    Karl J. Niklas received a B.S. (in mathematics) from the City College of the City of New York and a M.S. (in chemistry) and Ph.D. (in plant biology) from the University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois. Niklas joined the Cornell faculty in 1978, where he is the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Biology and a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential fellow.He currently teaches courses in introductory botany, plant evolution, and biomechanics.  Niklas’ research is a biophysical approach to plant evolution.  He is the author of over 325 research articles, four books [Plant Biomechanics 1992, Plant Allometry 1994, The Evolutionary Biology of Plants 1997, and Plant Physics (co-authored with Hanns–Christof Spatz) 2012; University of Chicago Press].  Niklas is the recipient of numerous awards including a John S. Guggenheim Fellowship, the George Gaylord Simpson Prize of the Peabody Museum (Yale University), the New York State University Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung Preis for Senior USA Scientists, the Jeanette Siron Pelton Award for studies in plant morphogenesis, and the Botanical Society of America’s 1996 Lifetime Merit Award and 2006 Centennial Medal. He served as the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Botany (1995–2004) and as the president of the Botanical Society of America (2008).

    Climbers' CornerTree Academy

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