Contrasting hydraulic architecture and function in deep and shallow roots of tree species from a semi-arid habitat.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Background and aims

Despite the importance of vessels in angiosperm roots for plant water transport, there is little research on the microanatomy of woody plant roots. Vessels in roots can be interconnected networks or nearly solitary, with few vessel-vessel connections. Species with few connections are common in arid habitats, presumably to isolate embolisms. In this study, measurements were made of root vessel pit sizes, vessel air-seeding pressures, pit membrane thicknesses and the degree of vessel interconnectedness in deep (approx. 20 m) and shallow (<10 cm) roots of two co-occurring species, Sideroxylon lanuginosum and Quercus fusiformis.


Scanning electron microscopy was used to image pit dimensions and to measure the distance between connected vessels. The number of connected vessels in larger samples was determined by using high-resolution computed tomography and three-dimensional (3-D) image analysis. Individual vessel air-seeding pressures were measured using a microcapillary method. The thickness of pit membranes was measured using transmission electron microscopy.

Key results

Vessel pit size varied across both species and rooting depths. Deep Q. fusiformis roots had the largest pits overall (>500 µm) and more large pits than either shallow Q. fusiformis roots or S. lanuginosum roots. Vessel air-seeding pressures were approximately four times greater in Q. fusiformis than in S. lanuginosum and 1·3-1·9 times greater in shallow roots than in deep roots. Sideroxylon lanuginosum had 34-44 % of its vessels interconnected, whereas Q. fusiformis only had 1-6 % of its vessels connected. Vessel air-seeding pressures were unrelated to pit membrane thickness but showed a positive relationship with vessel interconnectedness.


These data support the hypothesis that species with more vessel-vessel integration are often less resistant to embolism than species with isolated vessels. This study also highlights the usefulness of tomography for vessel network analysis and the important role of 3-D xylem organization in plant hydraulic function.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Johnson, DM; Brodersen, CR; Reed, M; Domec, J-C; Jackson, RB

Published Date

  • March 2014

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 113 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 617 - 627

PubMed ID

  • 24363350

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC3936587

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1095-8290

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0305-7364

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/aob/mct294


  • eng