1. An air-injection method was used to study loss of water transport capacity caused by xylem cavitation in roots and branches of Pinus edulis (Colorado Pinyon) and Juniperus osteosperma (Utah Juniper). These two species characterize the Pinyon–Juniper communities of the high deserts of the western United States. Juniperus osteosperma can grow in drier sites than P. edulis and is considered the more drought tolerant.
2.Juniperus osteosperma was more resistant to xylem cavitation than P. edulis in both branches and roots. Within a species, branches were more resistant to cavitation than roots for P. edulis but no difference was seen between the two organs for J. osteosperma. There was also no difference between juveniles and adults in J. osteosperma; this comparison was not made for P. edulis.
3. Tracheid diameter was positively correlated with xylem cavitation pressure across roots and stems of both species. This relation suggests a trade-off between xylem conductance and resistance to xylem cavitation in these species.
4. During summer drought, P. edulis maintained higher predawn xylem pressures and showed much greater stomatal restriction of transpiration, consistent with its greater vulnerability to cavitation, than J. osteosperma.
5. These results suggest that the relative drought tolerance of P. edulis and J. osteosperma results in part from difference in their vulnerability to xylem cavitation.