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Biol Lett. 2007 Feb 22;3(1):86-9.

Scaling of tree vascular transport systems along gradients of nutrient supply and altitude.

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University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EA, UK.


A recent metabolic scaling theory predicts that plants minimize resistance to hydraulic conduction in the bulk transport network by narrowing the diameter of xylem conduits distally. We hypothesized that trees growing at high altitude or on nutrient-depleted soils would prioritize survival over minimizing hydraulic resistance, and that their vascular systems would be structured differently from those of trees growing under more benign conditions. In fact, conduits were observed to narrow towards the periphery of vascular system within all 45 trees of three species we investigated, and scaling relationships were indistinguishable across a range of environments. Thus, conduit tapering relationships appear to be invariant with respect to environmental conditions.

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