Xylem cavitation caused by drought and freezing stress in four co-occurring Juniperus species


  • Edited by V. Hurry



Previous studies indicate that conifers are vulnerable to cavitation induced by drought but in many cases, not by freezing. Rarely have vulnerability to drought and freezing stress been studied together, even though both influence plant physiology and the abundance and distribution of plants in many regions of the world. We studied vulnerability to drought- and freezing-induced cavitation, along with wood density, conduit reinforcement, tracheid diameter, and hydraulic conductivity, in four Juniperus species that typically occupy different habitats, but uniquely co-occur at the same site in Arizona, AZ. We combined drought with a freeze-thaw cycle to create freezing-induced vulnerability curves. All four species demonstrated greater vulnerability to drought + freezing- than to drought-induced cavitation alone (P < 0.0001). Mean tracheid diameter was correlated with vulnerability to drought + freezing-induced cavitation (r = 0.512, P = 0.01). The vulnerability to cavitation of each species followed expected rankings based on relative moisture within each species' natural distribution. Species with naturally drier distributions showed greater resistance to both drought- and drought + freezing-induced cavitation. Even conifer species with relatively small tracheid diameters can experience xylem embolism after a single freeze-thaw cycle when under drought stress.