Trees never rest: the multiple facets of hydraulic redistribution



The upward movement of water due to transpiration stops when soil water potential (Ψs) drops below leaf water potential (ΨL). Under these circumstances, water can move in any direction in the plant-soil continuum through the passive conduits of roots and stems towards the lowest Ψs. This is generally termed as hydraulic redistribution (HR), but the positioning and orientation of the driving water potential gradient may vary. Any experimental method that can measure bi-directional and low flows in the sapwood of roots and stems will be suitable to detect HR. Using one approach for measuring sap flow (the heat field deformation technique, HFD) in several forest species and sites across Europe, we were able to provide evidence on different types of HR: vertical hydraulic redistribution (VHR), horizontal hydraulic redistribution (HHR), foliar uptake (FU) and tissue dehydration (TD). VHR is the vertical water movement through roots in response to water potential differences between deep and topsoil, either hydraulic lift or hydraulic descent. HHR is the lateral water movement through roots in response to horizontal water potential gradients, namely under localised irrigation. FU is the water movement from crown to soil through stems when the crown is wetted by foggy weather. TD is the downward movement of water in stems or roots from above-ground tree tissues to soil under prolonged drought or frost. Results from direct sap flow measurements indicated the vectoral and widespread nature of HR, a phenomenon of paramount importance for overall physiology and ecohydrology. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.