Allometric analysis of Sitka spruce branches: Mechanical versus hydraulic design principles

K.D. Farnsworth, P.R. Van Gardingen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The geometry of tree branches can have considerable effect on their efficiency in terms of carbon export per unit carbon investment in structure. The purpose of this study was to evaluate different design criteria using data describing the form of Picea sitchensis branches. Allometric analysis of the data suggests that resources are distributed to favour shoots with the greatest opportunity for extension into new space, with priority to the extension of the leader. The distribution of allometric relations of links (branch elements) was tested against two models: the pipe model, based on hydraulic transport requirements, and a static load model based on the requirement of shoots to provide mechanical resistance to static loads. Static load resistance required the load parameter to be proportional to the link radius raised to the power of 4. This was shown to be true within a 95% statistical confidence limit. The pipe model would require total distal length to be proportional to link radius squared but the measured branches did not conform well to this model. The comparison suggests that the diameters of branch elements were more related to the requirements for mechanical load. The cost of following a hydraulic design principle (the pipe model) in terms of mechanical efficiency was estimated and suggested that the pipe model branch would not be mechanically compromised but would use structural resources inefficiently. Resource allocation among branch elements was found to be consistent with mechanical stability criteria but also indicated the possibility of allocation based on other criteria, such as potential light interception by shoots. The evidence suggests that whilst branch topology increments by reiteration of units of morphogenesis, the geometry follows a functional design pattern.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalTrees - Structure and Function
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 1995


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