An allometry-based approach for understanding forest structure, predicting tree-size distribution and assessing the degree of disturbance

Tommaso Anfodillo*, Marco Carrer, Filippo Simini, Ionel Popa, Jayanth R. Banavar, Amos Maritan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Tree-size distribution is one of the most investigated subjects in plant population biology. The forestry literature reports that tree-size distribution trajectories vary across different stands and/or species, whereas the metabolic scaling theory suggests that the tree number scales universally as 22 power of diameter. Here, we propose a simple functional scaling model in which these two opposing results are reconciled. Basic principles related to crown shape, energy optimization and the finite-size scaling approach were used to define a set of relationships based on a single parameter that allows us to predict the slope of the tree-size distributions in a steady-state condition. We tested the model predictions on four temperate mountain forests. Plots (4 ha each, fully mapped) were selected with different degrees of human disturbance (semi-natural stands versus formerly managed). Results showed that the size distribution range successfully fitted by the model is related to the degree of forest disturbance: in semi-natural forests the range is wide, whereas in formerly managed forests, the agreement with the model is confined to a very restricted range. We argue that simple allometric relationships, at an individual level, shape the structure of the whole forest community.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20122375
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1751
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2013


  • finite-size scaling
  • allometry
  • self-thinning

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