The relationships between xylem safety and hydraulic efficiency in the cupressaceae

The evolution of pit membrane form and function

Jarmila Pittermann*, Brendan Choat, Steven Jansen, Stephanie A. Stuart, Lucy Lynn, Todd E. Dawson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

80 Citations (Scopus)


Water transport in conifers occurs through single-celled tracheids that are connected to one another via intertracheid pit membranes. These membranes have two components: the porous margo, which allows water to pass through the membrane, and the impermeable torus, which functions to isolate gas-filled tracheids. During drought, tracheids can become air filled and thus hydraulically dysfunctional, a result of air entering through the pit membrane and nucleating cavitation in the water column. What are the hydraulic tradeoffs associated with cavitation resistance at the pit level, and how do they vary within the structural components of the intertracheid pit? To address these questions, we examined pit structure in 15 species of Cupressaceae exhibiting a broad range of cavitation resistances. Across species, cavitation resistance was most closely correlated to the ratio of the torus to pit aperture diameter but did not vary systematically with margo porosity. Furthermore, our data indicate that constraints on pit hydraulic efficiency are shared: the pit aperture limits pit conductivity in more drought-resistant taxa, while increased margo resistance is more likely to control pit conductivity in species that are more vulnerable to cavitation. These results are coupled with additional data concerning pit membrane structure and function and are discussed in the context of the evolutionary biogeography of the Cupressaceae.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1919-1931
Number of pages13
JournalPlant Physiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010

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