Pine and mistletoes: how to live with a leak in the water flow and storage system

R. Zweifel, S. Bangerter, A. Rigling, F.J. Sterck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


The mistletoe, Viscum album, living on Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) has been reported barely to regulate its transpiration and thus heavily to affect the gas exchange of its host. The extent of this mistletoe effect and its underlying mechanism has, so far, only been partially analysed. In this study, pine branches with different mistletoe infestation levels were investigated by sap flow gauges and analysed with a modelling approach to identify the mistletoe-induced stomatal regulation of pine and its consequences for the water and carbon balances of the tree. It was found that Viscum album barely regulates its stomata and that pines consequently compensate for the additional water loss of mistletoes by closing their own stomata. Despite the reduced stomatal aperture of the needles, the total water loss of branches with mistletoes increased. Furthermore, the increasingly closed stomata reduced carbon assimilation for the pine. Such a negative effect of the mistletoes on pine’s stomatal conductance and carbon gain was particularly strong during dry periods. Our study therefore suggests that mistletoe-induced stomatal closure is a successful mechanism against dying from hydraulic failure in the short term but increases the risk of carbon starvation in the long term. With the current conditions in Valais, Switzerland, a tree with more than about 10–20% of its total leaf area attributable to mistletoes is at the threshold of keeping a positive carbon balance. The currently increasing mistletoe abundance, due to increasing mean annual temperatures, is therefore accelerating the ongoing pine decline in many dry inner-Alpine valleys.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2565-2578
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • album ssp austriacum
  • scots pine
  • drought stress
  • sylvestris l.
  • stomatal conductance
  • pubescent oak
  • rhone valley
  • carbon
  • mortality
  • xylem


Dive into the research topics of 'Pine and mistletoes: how to live with a leak in the water flow and storage system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this