Pit and tracheid anatomy explain hydraulic safety but not hydraulic efficiency of 28 conifer species

Yanjun Song*, Lourens Poorter, Angelina Horsting, Sylvain Delzon, Frank Sterck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Conifers face increased drought mortality risks because of drought-induced embolism in their vascular system. Variation in embolism resistance may result from species differences in pit structure and function, as pits control the air seeding between water-transporting conduits. This study quantifies variation in embolism resistance and hydraulic conductivity for 28 conifer species grown in a 50-year-old common garden experiment and assesses the underlying mechanisms. Conifer species with a small pit aperture, high pit aperture resistance, and large valve effect were more resistant to embolism, as they all may reduce air seeding. Surprisingly, hydraulic conductivity was only negatively correlated with tracheid cell wall thickness. Embolism resistance and its underlying pit traits related to pit size and sealing were more strongly phylogenetically controlled than hydraulic conductivity and anatomical tracheid traits. Conifers differed in hydraulic safety and hydraulic efficiency, but there was no trade-off between safety and efficiency because they are driven by different xylem anatomical traits that are under different phylogenetic control.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1033-1048
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2022


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