Realistic forecasting of forest responses to climate change critically depends on key advancements in global vegetation modelling. Compared with traditional ‘big-leaf’ models that simulate forest stands, ‘next-generation’ vegetation models aim to track carbon-, light-, water-, and nutrient-limited growth of individual trees. Wood biology can play an important role in delivering the required knowledge at tissue-to-individual levels, at minute-to-century scales and for model parameterization and benchmarking. We propose a wood biology research agenda that contributes to filling six knowledge gaps: sink versus source limitation, drivers of intra-annual growth, drought impacts, functional wood traits, dynamic biomass allocation, and nutrient cycling. Executing this agenda will expedite model development and increase the ability of models to forecast global change impact on forest dynamics.