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Leaf vein xylem conduit diameter influences susceptibility to embolism and hydraulic decline.

  • Author(s): Scoffoni, Christine;
  • Albuquerque, Caetano;
  • Brodersen, Craig R;
  • Townes, Shatara V;
  • John, Grace P;
  • Cochard, Hervé;
  • Buckley, Thomas N;
  • McElrone, Andrew J;
  • Sack, Lawren
  • et al.

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Ecosystems worldwide are facing increasingly severe and prolonged droughts during which hydraulic failure from drought-induced embolism can lead to organ or whole plant death. Understanding the determinants of xylem failure across species is especially critical in leaves, the engines of plant growth. If the vulnerability segmentation hypothesis holds within leaves, higher order veins that are most terminal in the plant hydraulic system should be more susceptible to embolism to protect the rest of the water transport system. Increased vulnerability in the higher order veins would also be consistent with these experiencing the greatest tensions in the plant xylem network. To test this hypothesis, we combined X-ray micro-computed tomography imaging, hydraulic experiments, cross-sectional anatomy and 3D physiological modelling to investigate how embolisms spread throughout petioles and vein orders during leaf dehydration in relation to conduit dimensions. Decline of leaf xylem hydraulic conductance (Kx ) during dehydration was driven by embolism initiating in petioles and midribs across all species, and Kx vulnerability was strongly correlated with petiole and midrib conduit dimensions. Our simulations showed no significant impact of conduit collapse on Kx decline. We found xylem conduit dimensions play a major role in determining the susceptibility of the leaf water transport system during strong leaf dehydration.

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