An architectural understanding of natural sway frequencies in trees

T. Jackson, A. Shenkin, J. Moore, A. Bunce, T. van Emmerik, B. Kane, D. Burcham, K. James, J. Selker, K. Calders, N. Origo, M. Disney, A. Burt, P. Wilkes, P. Raumonen, J. Gonzalez de Tanago Menaca, A. Lau, M. Herold, R. C. Goodman, T. FourcaudY. Malhi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The relationship between form and function in trees is the subject of a longstanding debate in forest ecology and provides the basis for theories concerning forest ecosystem structure and metabolism. Trees interact with the wind in a dynamic manner and exhibit natural sway frequencies and damping processes that are important in understanding wind damage. Tree-wind dynamics are related to tree architecture, but this relationship is not well understood. We present a comprehensive view of natural sway frequencies in trees by compiling a dataset of field measurement spanning conifers and broadleaves, tropical and temperate forests. The field data show that a cantilever beam approximation adequately predicts the fundamental frequency of conifers, but not that of broadleaf trees. We also use structurally detailed tree dynamics simulations to test fundamental assumptions underpinning models of natural frequencies in trees. We model the dynamic properties of greater than 1000 trees using a finite-element approach based on accurate three-dimensional model trees derived from terrestrial laser scanning data. We show that (1) residual variation, the variation not explained by the cantilever beam approximation, in fundamental frequencies of broadleaf trees is driven by their architecture; (2) slender trees behave like a simple pendulum, with a single natural frequency dominating their motion, which makes them vulnerable to wind damage and (3) the presence of leaves decreases both the fundamental frequency and the damping ratio. These findings demonstrate the value of new three-dimensional measurements for understanding wind impacts on trees and suggest new directions for improving our understanding of tree dynamics from conifer plantations to natural forests.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of the Royal Society. Interface
Issue number155
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2019
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • finite-element analysis
  • fundamental frequency
  • natural frequencies
  • terrestrial laser scanning
  • tree architecture
  • wind damage

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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