Journal Article

Xylem embolism alleviated by ion-mediated increase in hydraulic conductivity of functional xylem: insights from field measurements

Patrizia Trifilò, Maria A. Lo Gullo, Sebastiano Salleo, Katia Callea and Andrea Nardini

in Tree Physiology

Volume 28, issue 10, pages 1505-1512
Published in print August 2008 | ISSN: 0829-318X
Published online August 2008 | e-ISSN: 1758-4469 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/treephys/28.10.1505
Xylem embolism alleviated by ion-mediated increase in hydraulic conductivity of functional xylem: insights from field measurements

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Recent studies have shown that, in some species, xylem hydraulic conductivity (Kh) increases with increasing cation concentration of xylem sap. Evidence indicates that Kh increases as a result of the de-swelling of pit membrane pectins caused by cation neutralization of polygalacturonanes. We tested whether this ionic effect partly compensates for the embolism-induced loss of stem hydraulic conductivity (PLC) by increasing Kh of functioning conduits. We report changes in PLC, leaf water status and potassium concentration ([K+]) of xylem sap measured in April and July in two evergreens (Ceratonia siliqua L. and Phytolacca dioica L.) and one deciduous tree (Platanus orientalis L.) growing in the field in Sicily. In summer, Ceratonia siliqua and Phytolacca dioica showed similar native embolism (PLC = 30–40%) and [K+] of xylem sap (14 to 17 mM), and Kh of stems perfused with 10 to 25 mM KCl increased by 15 to 18% compared with Kh of stems perfused with a low concentration of a multi-ionic solution. In contrast, native [K+] of sap of Platanus orientalis was 50% of that in the two evergreens in summer, with a parallel lack of detectable changes in PLC that was below 10% in both spring and summer. The ionic effect was PLC-dependent: the enhancement of Kh induced by 10 to 25 mM KCl changed from 15% for fully hydrated stems to 50–75% for stems with PLC = 50%. In Ceratonia siliqua, PLC was less than 10% in spring and about 40% in summer; concurrently, xylem sap [K+] increased from 3 to about 15 mM. This [K+] at the recorded PLC would cause an increase in residual Kh of about 30%. Hence, the actual reduction in water transport capacity of Ceratonia siliqua stems in summer is about 20%. Similar calculations for Phytolacca dioica suggest that the actual loss of hydraulic conductivity in stems of this species in summer would be only about 10%, and not 30% as suggested by hydraulic measurements performed in the laboratory. We conclude that an increase in [K+] of xylem sap might be involved in the up-regulation of residual Kh, thus substantially alleviating the embolism-induced reduction in leaf water supply.

Keywords: cations; cavitation; drought; gas exchange; hydrogels; pits; potassium

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry

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