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Microfibril Angle: Measurement, Variation and Relationships – A Review

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Microfibril angle (MFA) is perhaps the easiest ultrastructural variable to measure for wood cell walls, and certainly the only such variable that has been measured on a large scale. Because cellulose is crystalline, the MFA of the S2 layer can be measured by X-ray diffraction. Automated X-ray scanning devices such as SilviScan have produced large datasets for a range of timber species using increment core samples. In conifers, microfibril angles are large in the juvenile wood and small in the mature wood. MFA is larger at the base of the tree for a given ring number from the pith, and decreases with height, increasing slightly at the top tree. In hardwoods, similar patterns occur, but with much less variation and much smaller microfibril angles in juvenile wood. MFA has significant heritability, but is also influenced by environmental factors as shown by its increased values in compression wood, decreased values in tension wood and, often, increased values following nutrient or water supplementation. Adjacent individual tracheids can show moderate differences in MFA that may be related to tracheid length, but not to lumen diameter or cell wall thickness. While there has been strong interest in the MFA of the S2 layer, which dominates the axial stiffness properties of tracheids and fibres, there has been little attention given to the microfibril angles of S1 and S3 layers, which may influence collapse resistance and other lateral properties. Such investigations have been limited by the much greater difficulty of measuring angles for these wall layers. MFA, in combination with basic density, shows a strong relationship to longitudinal modulus of elasticity, and to longitudinal shrinkage, which are the main reasons for interest in this cell wall property in conifers. In hardwoods, MFA is of more interest in relation to growth stress and shrinkage behaviour.


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