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Hydraulic responses to height growth in maritime pine trees

Abstract : As trees grow taller, decreased xylem path conductance imposes a major constraint on plant water and carbon balance, and is thus a key factor underlying forest productivity decline with age. The responses of stomatal conductance, leaf area: sapwood area ratio (A(L) : A(S)) and soil-leaf water potential gradient (DeltaPsi(S-L)) to height growth were investigated in maritime pine trees. Extensive measurements of in situ sap flow, stomatal conductance and (non-gravitational) needle water potential ((&UPsi;) over tilde (L) = Psi(L) - rho(w)gh) were made during 2 years in a chronosequence of four even-aged stands, under both wet and dry soil conditions. Under wet soil conditions, (&UPsi;) over tilde (L) was systematically lower in taller trees on account of differences in gravitational potential. In contrast, under dry soil conditions, our measurements clearly showed that (&UPsi;) over tilde (L) was maintained above a minimum threshold value of -2.0 MPa independently of tree height, thus limiting the range of compensatory change in DeltaPsi(S-L). Although a decrease in the A(L) : A(S) ratio occurred with tree height, this compensation was not sufficient to prevent a decline in leaf-specific hydraulic conductance, K-L (50% lower in 30 m trees than in 10 m trees). An associated decline in stomatal conductance with tree height thus occurred to maintain a balance between water supply and demand. Both the increased investment in non-productive versus productive tissues (A(S) : A(L)) and stomatal closure may have contributed to the observed decrease in tree growth efficiency with increasing tree height (by a factor of three from smallest to tallest trees), although other growth-limiting responses (e.g. soil nutrient sequestration, increased respiratory costs) cannot be excluded
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Sylvain Delzon, Michel Sartore, Régis Burlett, Roderick Dewar, Denis Loustau. Hydraulic responses to height growth in maritime pine trees. Plant, Cell and Environment, Wiley, 2004, 27 (9), pp.1077-1087. ⟨10.1111/j.1365-3040.2004.01213.x⟩. ⟨hal-02681608⟩

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