Spatial distribution and packing of xylem conduits

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Premise of the study: The hydraulic properties of the xylem determine the ability of plants to transport water from the soil to the leaves and to cope with important stress factors such as frost and drought. Hydraulic properties have usually been studied as a function of the anatomy of xylem conduits and their pits, but recent studies have proposed that system-level properties, related to the topology of the xylem network, may also play a role. Here we study how the spatial arrangement of conduits in xylem cross sections affects the relationship between mean conduit lumen area and conduit density (packing function) across species.Methods: Point pattern analysis was used to describe the spatial distribution of xylem conduits in 97 woody species. The effect of conduit aggregation on the packing function was tested using phylogenetic generalized least squares. A hydraulic model with an explicit description of the topology of the xylem network was used to interpret the functional significance of our findings.Key results: The spatial arrangement of conduits affected the packing function across species, so that species with aggregated distributions tended to have lower conduit densities for a given conduit size and lower conduit lumen fractions. According to our modeling results, the higher conduit-to-conduit connectivity of species with aggregated distributions allows them to achieve higher hydraulic conductivity. Species with aggregated conduits, however, pay a cost in terms of increased vulnerability to embolism.Conclusions: The spatial arrangement of conduits affects the fundamental structural and functional attributes of the xylem. © 2012 Botanical Society of America.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1189-1196
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2012


  • Cavitation
  • Embolism
  • Hydraulic conductivity
  • Network connectivity
  • Packing
  • Water transport
  • Xylem anatomy


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