Die hard: timberline conifers survive annual winter embolism - INRAE - Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement Access content directly
Journal Articles New Phytologist Year : 2019

Die hard: timberline conifers survive annual winter embolism


During winter, timberline trees are exposed to drought and frost, factors known to induce embolism. Studies indicated that conifers cope with winter embolism by xylem refilling. We analysed the loss of hydraulic conductivity (LC) in Picea abies branch xylem over 10 years, and correlated winter embolism to climate parameters. LC was investigated by direct X-ray micro-computer tomography (micro-CT) observations and potential cavitation fatigue by Cavitron measurements. Trees showed up to 100% winter embolism, whereby LC was highest, when climate variables indicated frost drought and likely freeze-thaw stress further increased LC. During summer, LC never exceeded 16%, due to hydraulic recovery. Micro-CT revealed homogenous embolism during winter and that recovery was based on xylem refilling. Summer samples exhibited lower LC in outermost compared to older tree rings, although no cavitation fatigue was detected. Long-term data and micro-CT observations demonstrate that timberline trees can survive annual cycles of pronounced winter-embolism followed by xylem refilling. Only a small portion of the xylem conductivity cannot be restored during the first year, while remaining conduits are refilled without fatigue during consecutive years. We identify important research topics to better understand the complex induction and repair of embolism at the timberline and its relevance to general plant hydraulics.
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hal-02394658 , version 1 (04-12-2019)





Eric Badel, Barbara Beikircher, Feng Feng, Stefan Mayr. Die hard: timberline conifers survive annual winter embolism. New Phytologist, 2019, 8 p. ⟨10.1111/nph.16304⟩. ⟨hal-02394658⟩
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