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Tree Physiol. 2010 Aug;30(8):1026-36. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tpq062. Epub 2010 Jul 9.

Change in hydraulic traits of Mediterranean Quercus ilex subjected to long-term throughfall exclusion.

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  • 1Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive CEFE CNRS, Montpellier Cedex 5, France.

Abstract

Mediterranean tree species experience unpredictable climate environments and severe summer droughts and they may be impaired by the trend of decline in precipitation projected as a consequence of global climate change. The response of Quercus ilex to drought was studied by measuring hydraulic traits of trees growing in a mature forest subjected to partial throughfall exclusion for 6 years. We measured hydraulic conductivity, xylem vulnerability to embolism, and anatomical features in branches and roots. Xylem vulnerability to embolism was higher in the dry treatment than in the control treatment, P₅₀ of branches was on average -3.88 +/- 0.80 MPa for the control treatment compared with -3.41 +/- 0.80 MPa for the dry treatment, but the difference was not statistically significant. A similar difference between treatments was observed for roots, which exhibited lower P₅₀ values. This change of xylem vulnerability to embolism was not linked to modification of the hydraulic conductivity or vessel anatomy, which remained unaffected by the throughfall exclusion treatment. The xylem density of branches was lower in the dry treatment. The hydraulic conductivity was correlated with the mean vessel diameter of xylem, but the P₅₀ was not. The main response of trees from the dry treatment to reduced water availability appeared to be a reduction in the transpiring leaf area, which resulted in significantly increased leaf-specific conductivity.

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