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In the Heart of the Limba Tree

In the Heart of the Limba Tree

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Published by: woodculther on Jan 14, 2010
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In the heart of the limba tree (Terminalia superba Engl. & Diels):
detection methods for heart rot and false heartwood
Maaike De Ridder1,2, Jan Van den Bulcke1, Hans Beeckman2 and Joris Van Acker1
1 Laboratory of Wood Technology, Ghent University, Belgium
2 Laboratory for Wood Biology and Xylarium, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium

Both resistance and velocity measurements were performed on planted and natural limba trees in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While 2 velocity measurements per tree are sufficient for the quick diagnosis of rotten or hollow trees, a compilation of 16 resistance profiles is necessary to distinguish the so-called false heartwood

(limba noir). On those two-dimensional reconstructions, small peaks in resistance correspond roughly with the

boundaries of limba noir. Detection methods are influenced by diameter, wood density and the presence of buttresses. Further research on density profiles is recommended to analyse these influences and the link with both detection methods.


Limba (Terminalia superba Engl. & Diels) has a very large distribution: from Sierra Leone until the north of the DRC from the east and from the south, until northwestern Angola [1]. This heliophilous species - often with large buttresses - is typically found in secondary forests and fallows [7] but also in plantations in Bas Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo). The presence of heart rot in older trees and the formation of a so-called limba noir or false heartwood [2] alters the popularity of this species.

The incidence of these two wood anomalies makes limba a very suitable species for the study of detection methods for as well heart rot as wood discolorations. This study is set up within the framework of sustainable forest management of tropical forests: detection of anomalies before exploitation prevents useless cutting and the loss of trees with an ecological function as e.g. seed trees. This implies certain conditions for detection methods: in situ applicable, not too expensive, fairly quick and easy to interpret. Two methods that meet all conditions are resistance [5, 6] and acoustic detection methods [9], mostly used as control methods for more specialised detection techniques. This case study wants to answer the following questions: (a) Are resistance and acoustic methods able to detect rot and/or wood discolorations like limba noir? (b) Which factors influence the measurements (density, buttresses, diameter)?

2.1. Site description

In the present case study, we focus on a 58 year old plantation of Terminalia superba at the southern border of the Mayumbe Forest and a secondary forest with natural limba trees more eastward, near Tshela. The limba plantation lies within the transition area of the Man and Biosphere Reserve of Luki, about 400 km coastward from Kinshasa, and surrounds a core area of drier semi-evergreen Guineo- Congolian rain forest with large parts of secondary forests where cultivation took place [8]. The forest near Tshela is also characterized by this alternation of secondary forest and agricultural lands.

2.2. General and detailed study
The detection methods were applied in two ways: 2 perpendicular measurements per tree (general
study) and 16 measurements per tree at equal distances (detailed study).

The general study is meant to evaluate the quick diagnosis of wood anomalies but also the relation between the two detection methods and the influence of diameter and buttresses. Next to the detection measurements, two wood cores per tree were taken to control the state of the wood just above or below the measuring point. Notes on the health status of trees were written down. The general study took place on 87 trees in the plantation. None of them showed signs of limba noir. Next to limba trees, other tree species were analysed with the acoustic method to investigate the influence of density and diameter (n = 10 trees per species).

The detailed study is reconstructing the inside of the tree, providing two-dimensional visualisations. This more intensive case study was performed on freshly cut stem disks, where disk surface and detection measurements could be compared. In total, 8 disks from 5 trees were analysed.

2.3. Detection methods

All resistance measurements were performed with a resistograph of the type IML-Resi B400. This instrument has a needle that penetrates the wood and registers the resistance every 0.04 mm. Sound wood has a higher resistance than infected wood. The measurement is semi-destructive, leaving only a small channel where the needle passed. The result is a resistance profile from the outside of the tree (without bark for the general study, with bark for the detailed study) to the pith.

A cheaper method consists of the determination of the velocity of sound within stems. Two sensors
were placed upon the tree on opposite sides. With a small hammer, one of the sensors was hit,
transmitting a sound pulse to the opposite sensor. The result is a travel time (μs). Every travel time is

the result of five repetitions that were recorded with the Fakopp Microsecond Timer. This measuring device only leaves two small holes in the tree where the sensors were placed and is less destructive than the resistograph. When the distance between the two ends of the sensors is measured with a calliper, the velocity can be calculated. The result is one velocity value per measurement.

2.4. Data analysis

The comparison between resistance profiles and velocity values is not always objective. After the first observations, a transformation of the resistance profiles into variables that are comparable with velocity values takes place. Every resistance curve shows a similar pattern (Figure 1): an increasing trend as the needle enters the stem followed by a more stable trend within the main stem. Using a double linear regression, we converted the resistance profiles into point values: the breakpoint (distance from the start of the profile to the intersection of the two linear regressions with the best cumulated determination coefficient, R²), the slope of the first and second linear regression, the maximum, minimum and range of resistance values after the breakpoint. All these values were compared with velocity and diameter values with special attention for the outliers of velocity.

During the detailed study, interpolation of the resistance profiles in order to visualize the internal distribution of resistances is based on the principle of inverse distance weighing. For every unknown pixel, a value is estimated based on the known resistances within a certain radius of the unknown pixel taking into account that the further from the unknown pixel, the less influence it has in the estimation. The acoustic reconstruction is based on an existing algorithm [4]. The current images are based on the travel times.

Figure 1 Example of the transformation of resistance profiles to point values.
The result is a breakpoint at point 407, corresponding with a distance of 16.28 mm.
3.1. Diagnosis of wood rot

Variation in resistance and velocity within and between sample trees is moderate to large. For instance, the differences in velocity within a tree are considered not significant (ANOVA, p = 0.72). However, it is important to keep the original values since averaging would only permit to detect rot in the central part of the tree. According to the boxplot, normal velocity values are situated between 1000 and 1650 m s-1. When rejecting the velocity outliers, the mean velocity of mature limba trees is 1288 ± 120 m s-1 (n = 174). This can be considered as the reference velocity (Vref). The relative decrease in velocity can be calculated like this:

Relative decrease of sound velocity = (Vref Vmes) / Vref * 100

On a total of 184 velocity measurements, only 7 measurements or less than 4 % appear unusually low, ranging from 298 to 917 m s-1. The corresponding relative decrease of sound velocity ranges from 29 to 77 %. The lowest record of velocity (298 m s-1) is excluded for further analysis because the sensor

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