Understanding the Factors Influencing Stem Form with Modelling Tools

  • Robert SchneiderEmail author
Part of the Progress in Botany book series (BOTANY, volume 80)


The shape of tree trunks has been studied in Forest Sciences for a long time, since the volume and biomass of the tree is directly related to its shape. This paper reviews the tools used to study the stem form, theories that explain the observed variations and some empirical observations of changes in stem form with climatic variables. A case study using balsam fir (Abies balsamea) data is used to highlight some modelling aspects. The ways to quantify stem form have evolved over time, and now it is mainly studied by either modelling the vertical growth distribution along the stem or with stem taper models. The results of the former will have implications in the fields of dendrochronology and wood properties and the latter is more important for estimating volume in national forest inventories or for tree-to-wood product conversion studies. More recently, allometric exponents, or the comparison of different allometric exponents, have also been used to gain insight on the effects of climate on stem form. These three modelling approaches are however empirically based. Several theories have been proposed to explain the effects of various factors on stem form, with the hydraulic and biomechanic theories being the most widely used, and often opposed. Both theories, when simplified to their simplest expression, underline the importance of crown dimensions in determining tree form. Nevertheless, these theories cannot explain all of the variations observed empirically. In the case study of balsam fir, climatic variables such as total summer precipitation and mean winter temperature are slightly more important in explaining tree taper, when compared to average wind speed. This signifies that the proposed theories, be it either hydraulic or biomechanic, should be hybridized with physiological processes in order to account for all the empirical observations.



I would like to thank Tony Franceschini for help finding some of the references and comments on an early draft of the manuscript. I would also like to thank Mélanie Desrochers of the Center for Forest Research (CEF-CFR) for the preparation of the map illustrated in Fig. 1. Finally, I would like to also thank the Forest Inventory Branch (Direction des inventaires forestiers) and the Forest Research Branch (Direction de la recherche forestiÒre) of the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks for the stem analysis database.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chaire de recherche sur la forêt habitée, Département de BiologieUniversité du Québec à RimouskiRimouskiCanada

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