MRI links stem water content to stem diameter variations in transpiring trees

V. De Schepper, D. van Dusschoten, P. Copini, S. Jahnke, K. Steppe

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In trees, stem diameter variations are related to changes in stem water content, because internally stored water is depleted and replenished over a day. To confirm this relationship, non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was combined with point dendrometer measurements in three actively transpiring oak (Quercus robur L.) trees. Two of these oak trees were girdled to study the stem increment above the girdling zone. MRI images and micrographs of stem cross-sections revealed a close link between the water distribution and the anatomical features of the stem. Stem tissues with the highest amount of water were physiologically the most active ones, being the youngest differentiating xylem cells, the cambium and the youngest differentiating and conductive phloem cells. Daily changes in stem diameter corresponded well with the simultaneously MRI-measured amount of water, confirming their strong interdependence. MRI images also revealed that the amount of water in the elastic bark tissues, excluding cambium and the youngest phloem, contributed most to the daily stem diameter changes. After bark removal, an additional increase in stem diameter was measured above the girdle. This increase was attributed not only to the cambial production of new cells, but also to swelling of existing bark cells. In conclusion, the comparison of MRI and dendrometer measurements confirmed previous interpretations and applications of dendrometers and illustrates the additional and complementary information MRI can reveal regarding water relations in plants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2645-2653
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • sap flow dynamics
  • sugar-transport
  • diurnal changes
  • radius changes
  • beech tree
  • xylem flow
  • phloem
  • long
  • anatomy
  • storage


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