Plants have always attracted human interest as evolving structures, Leonardo da Vinci’s studies on trees as an early example. Today not only intellectual curiosity but also increasing pressures on vegetation management (e.g. food security, biodiversity conservation, and control of global green house gas cycles) call for integrating all aspects of plants into models.
Leonardo considered that trees fork like river systems. He obviously had an idea about compatibility and unity of functional and structural characteristics of trees. Since his time plant morphology, anatomy, physiology and from the late 19th century plant ecology have developed as independent branches of plant science. From mid 20th century a whole plant physiology that tries to grasp a plant as one integrated entity has emerged. The evolution of systems approach and computer simulation techniques have facilitated this development.
An example of the progress made in the 1960’s is the book “Prediction and measurement of photosynthetic productivity” (Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, 1970). It deals both with the functional and structural aspects of development of plants and plant communities. Simulation models that stemmed out from this tradition have been called process-based models. They commonly consider physiological processes and give a detailed account of metabolism and plant growth in terms of mass variables. The architectural structure of plants has usually been described in a less detailed manner and in a model-specific way.
Further developments, the Lindenmayer systems as the most prominent example, have led to a possibility to deal with the structural part of plant development in a systematic and concise manner. In the late 1980s a new plant modeling paradigm started to develop that attempts to describe explicitly the structural development of plants. It increases the capabilities to study the interaction of plant structure and physiology. It allows to approach the problem of plant development as a complex interaction of environment, physiology and developmental processes at different spatial and temporal scales.
In 1996, a few modelling groups gathered in Finland to discuss advances in integrative plant models. Since this small start the Functional Structural Plant Model (FSPM) meetings have expanded to cover a great diversity of integrative plant models, combining plant architecture, molecular genetics, plant physiology, and environmental influences with computer science and mathematics. The next meeting will be held 9-14th June 2013 again in Finland (Saariselkä, Finnish Lapland).
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One of the most recent publications in the Annals of Botany is Contributions of leaf photosynthetic capacity, leaf angle and self-shading to the maximization of net photosynthesis in Acer saccharum: a modelling assessment by Posada et al. You’ll need a subscription to read this latest research. Our special issue specifically on Functional-Structural Plant Modelling is also subscription only till November. A couple of papers from the issue do have free access, including this one on the science behind the iPad app TreeSketch (TreeSketch is free on iTunes). However, last year’s special issue on Plant Growth Modelling, which has some relevant papers, has recently become available with Free Access.