Stomatal regulation by microclimate and tree water relations: interpreting ecophysiological field data with a hydralic plant model

R. Zweifel, K. Steppe, F.J. Sterck

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148 Citations (Scopus)


Dynamics in microclimate and physiological plant traits were studied for Pubescent oak and Scots pine in a dry inner-alpine valley in Switzerland, at a 10 min resolution for three consecutive years (2001¿2003). As expected, stomata tended to close with increasing drought in air and soil. However, stomatal aperture in oak was smaller than in pine under relatively wet conditions, but larger under dry conditions. To explore underlying mechanisms, a model was applied that (i) quantifies water relations within trees from physical principles (mechanistic part) and (ii) assumes that signals from light, stomatal aperture, crown water potential, and tree water deficit in storage pools control stomata (systemic part). The stomata of pine showed a more sensitive response to increasing drought because both factors, the slowly changing tree water deficit and the rapidly changing crown water potential, closed the stomata. By contrast, the stomata of oak became less drought-sensitive as the closing signal of crown water potential was opposed by the opening signal of tree water deficit. Moreover, parameter optimization suggests that oak withdrew more water from the storage pools and reduced leaf water potentials to lower levels, without risking serious damage by cavitation. The new model thus suggests how the hydraulic water flow and storage system determines the responses in stomatal aperture and transpiration to drought at time scales ranging from hours to multiple years, and why pine and oak might differ in such responses. These differences explain why oaks are more efficient competitors during drought periods, although this was not the case in the extremely dry year 2003, which provoked massive leaf loss and, from July onwards, physiological activity almost ceased
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2113-2131
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • stem diameter variations
  • vapor-pressure deficit
  • conductance
  • transpiration
  • drought
  • forest
  • flow
  • photosynthesis
  • responses
  • growth


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