The hydraulic architecture of Eucalyptus trees growing across a gradient of depth-to-groundwater

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Journal Article
Functional Plant Biology, 2015, 42 (9), pp. 888 - 898
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© CSIRO 2015. Heterogeneity in water availability acts as an important driver of variation in plant structure and function. Changes in hydraulic architecture represent a key mechanism by which adaptation to changes in water availability can be expressed in plants. The aim of this study was to investigate whether differences in depth-to-groundwater influence the hydraulic architecture of Eucalyptus trees in remnant woodlands within mesic environments. Hydraulic architecture of trees was examined in winter and summer by measuring the following traits: Huber value (HV: the ratio between sapwood area and leaf area), branch hydraulic conductivity (leaf and sapwood area specific), sapwood density, xylem vulnerability (P50 and Pe) and hydraulic safety margins across four sites where depth-to-groundwater ranged from 2.4 to 37.5m. Huber value increased significantly as depth-to-groundwater increased. Neither sapwood density nor branch hydraulic conductivity (sapwood and leaf area specific) varied significantly across sites. Xylem vulnerability to embolism (represented by P50 and Pe) in both seasons was significantly and negatively correlated with depth-to-groundwater. Hydraulic safety margins increased with increasing depth-to-groundwater and therefore trees growing at sites with deeper water tables were less sensitive to drought induced embolism. These results showed plasticity in some, but not all, hydraulic traits (as reflected in HV, P50, Pe and hydraulic safety margin) in response to increase in depth-to-groundwater in a mesic environment.
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