Cavitation Fatigue. Embolism and Refilling Cycles Can Weaken the Cavitation Resistance of Xylem1


American Society of Plant Physiologists


Although cavitation and refilling cycles could be common in plants, it is unknown whether these cycles weaken the cavitation resistance of xylem. Stem or petiole segments were tested for cavitation resistance before and after a controlled cavitation-refilling cycle. Cavitation was induced by centrifugation, air drying of shoots, or soil drought. Except for droughted plants, material was not significantly water stressed prior to collection. Cavitation resistance was determined from “vulnerability curves” showing the percentage loss of conductivity versus xylem pressure. Two responses were observed. “Resilient” xylem (Acer negundo and Alnus incana stems) showed no change in cavitation resistance after a cavitation-refilling cycle. In contrast, “weakened” xylem (Populus angustifolia, P. tremuloides, Helianthus annuus stems, and Aesculus hippocastanum petioles) showed considerable reduction in cavitation resistance. Weakening was observed whether cavitation was induced by centrifugation, air dehydration, or soil drought. Observations from H. annuus showed that weakening was proportional to the embolism induced by stress. Air injection experiments indicated that the weakened response was a result of an increase in the leakiness of the vascular system to air seeding. The increased air permeability in weakened xylem could result from rupture or loosening of the cellulosic mesh of interconduit pit membranes during the water stress and cavitation treatment.

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