• Populus tremuloides;
  • air-seeding hypothesis;
  • pit area hypothesis;
  • vessel diameter;
  • Weibull functions


The objective of this study was to quantify the relationship between vulnerability to cavitation and vessel diameter within a species. We measured vulnerability curves (VCs: percentage loss hydraulic conductivity versus tension) in aspen stems and measured vessel-size distributions. Measurements were done on seed-grown, 4-month-old aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx) grown in a greenhouse. VCs of stem segments were measured using a centrifuge technique and by a staining technique that allowed a VC to be constructed based on vessel diameter size-classes (D). Vessel-based VCs were also fitted to Weibull cumulative distribution functions (CDF), which provided best-fit values of Weibull CDF constants (c and b) and P50 = the tension causing 50% loss of hydraulic conductivity. We show that P50 = 6.166D−0.3134 (R2 = 0.995) and that b and 1/c are both linear functions of D with R2 > 0.95. The results are discussed in terms of models of VCs based on vessel D size-classes and in terms of concepts such as the ‘pit area hypothesis’ and vessel pathway redundancy.