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Tree Physiol. 1997 Apr;17(4):275-80.

Xylem cavitation in roots and stems of Douglas-fir and white fir.

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Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.


Roots of hardwoods have been shown to be more vulnerable to xylem cavitation than stems. This study examined whether this pattern is also observed in a conifer species. Vulnerability to cavitation was determined from the pressure required to inject air into the vascular system of hydrated roots and stems, and reduce hydraulic conductance of the xylem. According to the air-seeding hypothesis for the cavitation mechanism, these air pressures predict the negative xylem pressure causing cavitation in dehydrating stems. This was evaluated for stems of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco) and white fir (Abies concolor (Gord. & Glend.) Lindl.). The air-injection method was applied to roots and stems of different sizes and positions in Douglas-fir trees. Roots, especially smaller roots with a xylem diameter < 5 mm, were more vulnerable to cavitation than stems. Mean cavitation pressure for smaller roots was -2.09 +/- 0.42 versus -3.80 +/- 0.19 MPa for larger roots (> 8 mm diameter). Within the shoot system, smaller stems (< 5 mm diameter) were most vulnerable to cavitation, having a mean cavitation pressure of -4.23 +/- 0.565 versus -5.27 +/- 0.513 MPa for large stems (> 8 mm diameter). There was no correlation between tracheid diameter and mean cavitation pressure within root or stem systems, despite larger tracheid diameters in roots (23.3 +/- 3.9 micro m) than in stems (9.2 +/- 1.6 micro m). Smaller safety margins from cavitation in roots may be beneficial in limiting water use during mild drought, and in protecting the stem from low xylem pressures during extreme drought.


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