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Water stress-induced xylem hydraulic failure is a causal factor of tree mortality in beech and poplar

Barigah, Têtè Sévérien, Charrier, Olivia, Douris, Marie, Bonhomme, Marc, Herbette, Stéphane, Améglio, Thierry, Fichot, Régis, Brignolas, Frank, Cochard, Hervé
Annals of botany 2013 v.112 no.7 pp. 1431-1437
Fagus, Populus, death, drought, lethal dose, mortality, stems, tree mortality, trees, water stress, xylem
Background and Aims Extreme water stress episodes induce tree mortality, but the physiological mechanisms causing tree death are still poorly understood. This study tests the hypothesis that a potted tree's ability to survive extreme monotonic water stress is determined by the cavitation resistance of its xylem tissue. Methods Two species were selected with contrasting cavitation resistance (beech and poplar), and potted juvenile trees were exposed to a range of water stresses, causing up to 100 % plant death. Key Results The lethal dose of water stress, defined as the xylem pressure inducing 50 % mortality, differed sharply across species (1·75 and 4·5 MPa in poplar and beech, respectively). However, the relationships between tree mortality and the degree of cavitation in the stems were similar, with mortality occurring suddenly when >90 % cavitation had occurred. Conclusions Overall, the results suggest that cavitation resistance is a causal factor of tree mortality under extreme drought conditions.