Safety and streamlining of woody shoots in wind: an empirical study across 39 species in tropical Australia


Author for correspondence:
Don W. Butler
Tel: +61 7 3406 6049


  • Wind is a key mechanical stress for woody plants, so how do shoot traits affect performance in wind?
  • We used a vehicle mounted apparatus to measure drag, streamlining and mechanical safety in 127 vertical lead-shoots, 1.2 m long, across 39 species in tropical Australia.
  • Shoot dimensions and stem tissue properties were closely coupled so that shoots with low stem specific gravity or larger projected area had thicker stems. Thicker stems provide larger second moment of area (I), which increased shoot safety and bending stiffness but impeded shoot reconfiguration in strong winds, including frontal area reduction. Nonetheless, increasing I also improved streamlining. Streamlining was unrelated to traits except I. Stem tissue material properties only had small effects. Higher modulus of rupture increased shoot safety and higher Young’s modulus impeded shoot reconfiguration.
  • We found no conflict between bending stiffness and streamlining for woody shoots. Stiffness might help streamlining by increasing damping and stability, thereby reducing flagging in wind. Tissue-level traits did influence shoot-level mechanical safety and behaviour, but shoot geometry was much more important. Variable shoot and stem traits, which all influenced shoot biomechanics, were integrated in shoots to yield a relatively narrow range of outcomes in wind.