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J Exp Bot. 2014 Apr;65(7):1895-904. doi: 10.1093/jxb/eru075. Epub 2014 Mar 8.

Investigating water transport through the xylem network in vascular plants.

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International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, CIMMYT-Ethiopia, P.O. Box 5689, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


Our understanding of physical and physiological mechanisms depends on the development of advanced technologies and tools to prove or re-evaluate established theories, and test new hypotheses. Water flow in land plants is a fascinating phenomenon, a vital component of the water cycle, and essential for life on Earth. The cohesion-tension theory (CTT), formulated more than a century ago and based on the physical properties of water, laid the foundation for our understanding of water transport in vascular plants. Numerous experimental tools have since been developed to evaluate various aspects of the CTT, such as the existence of negative hydrostatic pressure. This review focuses on the evolution of the experimental methods used to study water transport in plants, and summarizes the different ways to investigate the diversity of the xylem network structure and sap flow dynamics in various species. As water transport is documented at different scales, from the level of single conduits to entire plants, it is critical that new results be subjected to systematic cross-validation and that findings based on different organs be integrated at the whole-plant level. We also discuss the functional trade-offs between optimizing hydraulic efficiency and maintaining the safety of the entire transport system. Furthermore, we evaluate future directions in sap flow research and highlight the importance of integrating the combined effects of various levels of hydraulic regulation.


Water flow; cohesion-tension theory; efficiency/safety trade-off; embolism.; hydraulic regulation; sap flow dynamics

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