Biomechanical Environmental Constraints on Tree Height and Their Ecological Significance

Although growth in length permits the stem to grow higher, the stem also needs to be self-supporting. Mechanical instability can occur under the effects of self-weight, wind forces, or the combination of both. When such instability occurs, it can produce failure or not, with obviously distinct ecological consequences. To assess whether these risks are or are not ecological constraints and which mechanical load (if any) is limiting for height growth, researchers find that a mechanical representation, i.e., a model of the geometry, shape, loads, and boundary conditions, is an extremely useful tool.

Furthermore, these mechanical models can provide a basis for the understanding of several biomechanical aspects of the dynamics of forest communities. Not only is forest dynamics concerned with tree mechanical stability in communities because storm damage to trees can induce gaps that are the motor processes of forest growth dynamics, but mechanical stability is also influenced by forest dynamics. Competition for space in communities can induce huge variations in tree form and architecture with, in particular, a modification of allometric relations [42] as well as changes in wood quality linked to tree growth rate [25]. Ancelin et al. [43-45] developed an individual tree-based mechanical model of this feedback between tree biomechanics and forest dynamics.

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