Universality of phloem transport in seed plants

Authors

  • KÅRE HARTVIG JENSEN,

    1. Department of Physics, Center for Fluid Dynamics, Technical University of Denmark, DTU Physics Building 309, DK-2800 Kongens Lyngby, Denmark
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • JOHANNES LIESCHE,

    1. Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology, University of Copenhagen, Thorvaldsensvej 40, DK-1871 Frederiksberg C, Denmark
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • TOMAS BOHR,

    1. Department of Physics, Center for Fluid Dynamics, Technical University of Denmark, DTU Physics Building 309, DK-2800 Kongens Lyngby, Denmark
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  • ALEXANDER SCHULZ

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology, University of Copenhagen, Thorvaldsensvej 40, DK-1871 Frederiksberg C, Denmark
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A. Schulz. e-mail: als@life.ku.dk

ABSTRACT

Since Münch in the 1920s proposed that sugar transport in the phloem vascular system is driven by osmotic pressure gradients, his hypothesis has been strongly supported by evidence from herbaceous angiosperms. Experimental constraints made it difficult to test this proposal in large trees, where the distance between source and sink might prove incompatible with the hypothesis. Recently, the theoretical optimization of the Münch mechanism was shown to lead to surprisingly simple predictions for the dimensions of the phloem sieve elements in relation to that of fast growing angiosperms. These results can be obtained in a very transparent way using a simple coupled resistor model. To test the universality of the Münch mechanism, we compiled anatomical data for 32 angiosperm and 38 gymnosperm trees with heights spanning 0.1–50 m. The species studied showed a remarkable correlation with the scaling predictions. The compiled data allowed calculating stem sieve element conductivity and predicting phloem sap flow velocity. The central finding of this work is that all vascular plants seem to have evolved efficient osmotic pumping units, despite their huge disparity in size and morphology. This contribution extends the physical understanding of phloem transport, and will facilitate detailed comparison between theory and field experiments.

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