Vulnerability to cavitation of leaf minor veins: any impact on leaf gas exchange?


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Vulnerability to cavitation of leaf minor veins and stems of Laurus nobilis L. was quantified together with that of leaflets, rachides and stems of Ceratonia siliqua L. during air-dehydration of 3-year-old branches. Embolism was estimated by counting ultrasound acoustic emissions (UAE) and relating them to leaf water potential (ΨL). The threshold ΨL for cavitation was less negative in L. nobilis than in C. siliqua according to the known higher drought resistance of the latter species. Leaf minor vein cavitation was also quantified by infiltrating leaves with fluorescein at different dehydration levels and observing them under microscope. Distinct decreases in the functional integrity of minor veins were observed during leaf dehydration, with high correlation between the two variables. The relationship between leaf conductance to water vapour (gL) and ΨL showed that stomata of L. nobilis closed in response to stem and not to leaf cavitation. However, in C. siliqua, gL decreased in coincidence to the leaf cavitation threshold, which was, nevertheless, very close to that of the stem. The hypothesis that stem cavitation acts as a signal for stomatal closure was confirmed, while the same role for leaf cavitation remains an open problem.