Xylem hydraulic properties of roots and stems of nine Mediterranean woody species

Jordi Martínez-Vilalta, Ester Prat, Imma Oliveras, Josep Piñol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

251 Citations (Scopus)


We studied the hydraulic architecture and water relations of nine co-occurring woody species in a Spanish evergreen oak forest over the course of a dry season. Our main objectives were to: (1) test the existence of a trade-off between hydraulic conductivity and security in the xylem, and (2) establish the safety margins at which the species operated in relation to hydraulic failure, and compare these safety margins between species and tissues (roots vs. stems). Our results showed that the relationship between specific hydraulic conductivity (Ks) and resistance to cavitation followed a power function with exponent ≈-2, consistent with the existence of a trade-off between conductivity and security in the xylem, and also consistent with a linear relationship between vessel diameter and the size of inter-vessel pores. The diameter of xylem conduits, Ks and vulnerability to xylem embolism were always higher in roots than in stems of the same species. Safety margins from hydraulic failure were narrower in roots than in stems. Among species, the water potential (Ψ) at which 50% of conductivity was lost due to embolism ranged between -0.9 and <-8 MPa for roots and between -2.0 and <-8 MPa for stems. Vulnerability to xylem embolism followed a pattern of: Quercus ilex=Acer monspessulanum=Arbutus unedo=Sorbus torminalis=Cistus laurifolius>Cistus albidus=Ilex aquifolium>Phillyrea latifolia>Juniperus oxycedrus. Gas exchange and seasonal Ψ minima were in general correlated with resistance to xylem embolism. Hydraulic safety margins differed markedly among species, with some of them (J. oxycedrus, I. aquifolium, P. latifolia) showing a xylem overly resistant to cavitation. We hypothesize that this overly resistant xylem may be related to the shape of the relationship between Ks and security we have found.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-29
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2002


  • Drought
  • Hydraulic limits
  • Trade-off
  • Water transport
  • Xylem embolism

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