Understanding why trunks (tree stems) are the size that they are is important. However, this understanding is fragmented into isolated schools of thought and has been far from complete. Realistic calculations on minimum trunk diameters needed to resist bending moments caused by wind and gravity would be a significant step forward. However, advancements using this biomechanical approach have been delayed by difficulties in modelling wind gusts. We felled and measured five Norway spruces (Picea abies) in an unthinned monoculture in southeastern Finland planted 67 years earlier. We focused on forces working on storm-bent (maximally bent) trees caused by gravity and the strongest gust in a one-hour simulation with a large-eddy simulation model.
The three largest trees resisted mean above-canopy wind speeds ranging from 10.2 m s-1 to 12.7 m s-1 (3.3-fold in the gust), but the two smallest were well protected by a dense layer of leaves from the bending tops of larger trees, and could have resisted stronger winds. Gravity caused approximately one quarter of the critical bending moments.
Our biomechanical modelling of trunk taper based on wind and gravity leads to diameters close to those measured, and we discuss the potential causes of the deviations. This approach could also be used to model tree biomasses and how those may change with changing climate.