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Non-destructive estimation of root pressure using sap flow, stem diameter measurements and mechanistic modelling

De Swaef, Tom, Hanssens, Jochen, Cornelis, Annelies, Steppe, Kathy
Annals of botany 2013 v.111 no.2 pp. 271-282
Solanum lycopersicum, environmental factors, mechanistic models, root pressure, sap flow, stemflow, tomatoes, transpiration, water flow, xylem
Background Upward water movement in plants via the xylem is generally attributed to the cohesion–tension theory, as a response to transpiration. Under certain environmental conditions, root pressure can also contribute to upward xylem water flow. Although the occurrence of root pressure is widely recognized, ambiguity exists about the exact mechanism behind root pressure, the main influencing factors and the consequences of root pressure. In horticultural crops, such as tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), root pressure is thought to cause cells to burst, and to have an important impact on the marketable yield. Despite the challenges of root pressure research, progress in this area is limited, probably because of difficulties with direct measurement of root pressure, prompting the need for indirect and non-destructive measurement techniques. Methods A new approach to allow non-destructive and non-invasive estimation of root pressure is presented, using continuous measurements of sap flow and stem diameter variation in tomato combined with a mechanistic flow and storage model, based on cohesion–tension principles. Key Results Transpiration-driven sap flow rates are typically inversely related to stem diameter changes; however, this inverse relationship was no longer valid under conditions of low transpiration. This decoupling between sap flow rates and stem diameter variations was mathematically related to root pressure. Conclusions Root pressure can be estimated in a non-destructive, repeatable manner, using only external plant sensors and a mechanistic model.