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Title: Limitations in the hydraulic pathway: Effects of xylem embolisms on sap velocity and flow

item SCHENK, JOCHEN - California State University
item ESPINO, SUSANA - California State University
item MENDEZ, ALEJANDRA - California State University
item McElrone, Andrew

Submitted to: Acta Horticulturae
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/25/2013
Publication Date: 5/28/2013
Publication URL:
Citation: Schenk, J., Espino, S., Mendez, A., Mcelrone, A.J. 2013. Limitations in the hydraulic pathway: Effects of xylem embolisms on sap velocity and flow. Acta Horticulturae. 991:323-332.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Sap flow in plants takes place in the xylem, a hydraulic system that is usually under negative pressure and in which gas and liquid phases are separated by nanoporous, fibrous pit membranes. It has long been known that this system is at risk of drawing gas nanobubbles through these membranes into the xylem sap, a process referred to as “air seeding”. These bubbles then can cavitate and create embolisms. Embolized vessels and tracheids block the hydraulic pathway, reduce hydraulic conductivity, and thereby potentially reduce sap flow. Under drought stress, the number of sap-filled conduits often steadily declines with increasingly negative xylem water potential. It was long thought that removal of embolisms would be physically impossible while the system is transporting water under negative pressure. However, recent research has provided abundant evidence for seasonal and/or diurnal formation and removal of xylem embolisms in many plant species. The number of functioning conduits as well as wood water and gas content can fluctuate over a growing season and often over the course of a day. We review evidence for such changes obtained through hydraulic measurements, cryo-scanning electron microscopy, and high-resolution computed tomography. Loss and gain of functional conduits over time effectively translates into changes in the xylem conducting area. In sap flow research, conducting area is almost universally assumed to be constant over time, but this assumption turns out to be invalid for plants that form and repair embolisms. Temporal changes in the water content of other wood cells also affect the thermal conductivity of wood and therefore sap flow measurements based on heat-fluxes. Measurements of active conducting area and wood water content concurrently with sap flow measurements may be needed for accurate determination of sap flux density and volumetric flow.