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Am J Bot. 1999 Nov;86(11):1538-43.

Loss of water transport capacity due to xylem cavitation in roots of two CAM succulents.

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  • 1Department of Organismic Biology, Ecology, and Evolution, University of California,Los Angeles, California 90095-1606.


Loss of axial hydraulic conductance as a result of xylem cavitation was examined for roots of the Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) succulents Agave deserti and Opuntia ficus-indica. Vulnerability to cavitation was not correlated with either root size or vessel diameter. Agave deserti had a mean cavitation pressure of -0.93 ± 0.08 MPa by both an air-injection and a centrifugal method compared to -0.70 ± 0.02 MPa by the centrifugal method for O. ficus-indica, reflecting the greater tolerance of the former species to low water potentials in its native habitat. Substantial xylem cavitation would occur at a soil water potential of -0.25 MPa, resulting in a predicted 22% loss of conductance for A. deserti and 32% for O. ficus-indica. For an extended drought of 3 mo, further cavitation could cause a 69% loss of conductance for A. deserti and 62% for O. ficus-indica. A model of axial hydraulic flow based upon the cavitation response of these species predicted that water uptake rates are far below the maximum possible, owing to the high root water potentials of these desert succulents. Despite various shoot adaptations to aridity, roots of A. deserti and O. ficus-indica are highly vulnerable to cavitation, which partially limits water uptake in a wet soil but helps reduce water loss to a drying soil.

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