Understanding tree failure : A systematic review and meta-analysis

Haaften, M.A. van; Liu, Yili; Wang, Yuxin; Zhang, Yueyue; Gardebroek, Cornelis; Heijman, W.J.M.; Meuwissen, M.P.M.


Recent research has indicated an increase in the likelihood and impact of tree failure. The potential for trees to fail relates to various biomechanical and physical factors. Strikingly, there seems to be an absence of tree risk assessment methods supported by observations, despite an increasing availability of variables and parameters measured by scientists, arborists and practitioners. Current urban tree risk assessments vary due to differences in experience, training, and personal opinions of assessors. This stresses the need for a more objective method to assess the hazardousness of urban trees. The aim of this study is to provide an overview of factors that influence tree failure including stem failure, root failure and branch failure. A systematic literature review according to the PRISMA guidelines has been performed in databases, supported by backward referencing: 161 articles were reviewed revealing 142 different factors which influenced tree failure. A meta-analysis of effect sizes and p-values was executed on those factors which were associated directly with any type of tree failure. Bayes Factor was calculated to assess the likelihood that the selected factors appear in case of tree failure. Publication bias was analysed visually by funnel plots and results by regression tests. The results provide evidence that the factors Height and Stem weight positively relate to stem failure, followed by Age, DBH, DBH squared times H, and Cubed DBH (DBH3) and Tree weight. Stem weight and Tree weight were found to relate positively to root failure. For branch failure no relating factors were found. We recommend that arborists collect further data on these factors. From this review it can further be concluded that there is no commonly shared understanding, model or function available that considers all factors which can explain the different types of tree failure. This complicates risk estimations that include the failure potential of urban trees.