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J Exp Bot. 2013 Nov;64(15):4779-91. doi: 10.1093/jxb/ert193. Epub 2013 Jul 25.

Methods for measuring plant vulnerability to cavitation: a critical review.

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INRA, UMR 547 PIAF, F-63100 Clermont-Ferrand, France.


Xylem cavitation resistance has profound implications for plant physiology and ecology. This process is characterized by a 'vulnerability curve' (VC) showing the variation of the percentage of cavitation as a function of xylem pressure potential. The shape of this VC varies from 'sigmoidal' to 'exponential'. This review provides a panorama of the techniques that have been used to generate such a curve. The techniques differ by (i) the way cavitation is induced (e.g. bench dehydration, centrifugation, or air injection), and (ii) the way cavitation is measured (e.g. percentage loss of conductivity (PLC) or acoustic emission), and a nomenclature is proposed based on these two methods. A survey of the literature of more than 1200 VCs was used to draw statistics on the usage of these methods and on their reliability and validity. Four methods accounted for more than 96% of all curves produced so far: bench dehydration-PLC, centrifugation-PLC, pressure sleeve-PLC, and Cavitron. How the shape of VCs varies across techniques and species xylem anatomy was also analysed. Strikingly, it was found that the vast majority of curves obtained with the reference bench dehydration-PLC method are 'sigmoidal'. 'Exponential' curves were more typical of the three other methods and were remarkably frequent for species having large xylem conduits (ring-porous), leading to a substantial overestimation of the vulnerability of cavitation for this functional group. We suspect that 'exponential' curves may reflect an open-vessel artefact and call for more precautions with the usage of the pressure sleeve and centrifugation techniques.


Cavitation; embolism; review; technique; xylem.

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