Background and Aims Storms can cause huge damage to European forests. Even pole-stage trees with 80-cm rooting depth can topple. Therefore, good anchorage is needed for trees to survive and grow up from an early age. We hypothesized that root architecture is a predominant factor determining anchorage failure caused by strong winds.
Methods We sampled 48 seeded or planted Pinus pinaster trees of similar aerial size from four stands damaged by a major storm 3 years before. The trees were gathered into three classes: undamaged, leaning and heavily toppled. After uprooting and 3D digitizing of their full root architectures, we computed the mechanical characteristics of the main components of the root system from our morphological measurements.
Key Results Variability in root architecture was quite large. A large main taproot, either short and thick or long and thin, and guyed by a large volume of deep roots, was the major component that prevented stem leaning. Greater shallow root flexural stiffness mainly at the end of the zone of rapid taper on the windward side also prevented leaning. Toppling in less than 90-cm-deep soil was avoided in trees with a stocky taproots or with a very big leeward shallow root. Toppled trees also had a lower relative root biomass – stump excluded – than straight trees.
Conclusions It was mainly the flexural stiffness of the central part of the root system that secured anchorage, preventing a weak displacement of the stump. The distal part of the longest taproot and attached deep roots may be the only parts of the root system contributing to anchorage through their maximum tensile load. Several designs provided good anchorage, depending partly on available soil depth. Pole-stage trees are in-between the juvenile phase when they fail by toppling and the mature phase when they fail by uprooting.