A new look at water transport regulation in plants

Martinez-Vilalta J., Poyatos R., Aguade D., Retana J., Mencuccini M. (2014) A new look at water transport regulation in plants. New Phytologist. : 0-0.
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Doi: 10.1111/nph.12912

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Plant function requires effective mechanisms to regulate water transport at a variety of scales. Here, we develop a new theoretical framework describing plant responses to drying soil, based on the relationship between midday and predawn leaf water potentials. The intercept of the relationship (Λ) characterizes the maximum transpiration rate per unit of hydraulic transport capacity, whereas the slope (σ) measures the relative sensitivity of the transpiration rate and plant hydraulic conductance to declining water availability. This framework was applied to a newly compiled global database of leaf water potentials to estimate the values of Λ and σ for 102 plant species. Our results show that our characterization of drought responses is largely consistent within species, and that the parameters Λ and σ show meaningful associations with climate across species. Parameter σ was ≤1 in most species, indicating a tight coordination between the gas and liquid phases of water transport, in which canopy transpiration tended to decline faster than hydraulic conductance during drought, thus reducing the pressure drop through the plant. The quantitative framework presented here offers a new way of characterizing water transport regulation in plants that can be used to assess their vulnerability to drought under current and future climatic conditions. © 2014 New Phytologist Trust.

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Drought-induced defoliation and long periods of near-zero gas exchange play a key role in accentuating metabolic decline of Scots pine

Poyatos R., Aguade D., Galiano L., Mencuccini M., Martinez-Vilalta J. (2013) Drought-induced defoliation and long periods of near-zero gas exchange play a key role in accentuating metabolic decline of Scots pine. New Phytologist. 200: 388-401.
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Doi: 10.1111/nph.12278

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Summary: Drought-induced defoliation has recently been associated with the depletion of carbon reserves and increased mortality risk in Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). We hypothesize that defoliated individuals are more sensitive to drought, implying that potentially higher gas exchange (per unit of leaf area) during wet periods may not compensate for their reduced photosynthetic area. We measured sap flow, needle water potentials and whole-tree hydraulic conductance to analyse the drought responses of co-occurring defoliated and nondefoliated Scots pines in northeast Spain during typical (2010) and extreme (2011) drought conditions. Defoliated Scots pines showed higher sap flow per unit leaf area during spring, but were more sensitive to summer drought, relative to nondefoliated pines. This pattern was associated with a steeper decline in soil-to-leaf hydraulic conductance with drought and an enhanced sensitivity of canopy conductance to soil water availability. Near-homeostasis in midday water potentials was observed across years and defoliation classes, with minimum values of -2.5 MPa. Enhanced sensitivity to drought and prolonged periods of near-zero gas exchange were consistent with low levels of carbohydrate reserves in defoliated trees. Our results support the critical links between defoliation, water and carbon availability, and their key roles in determining tree survival and recovery under drought. © 2013 New Phytologist Trust.

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