• cavitation;
  • feedback;
  • feedforward;
  • stomatal conductance;
  • transpiration;
  • water potential


  • Summary 1

  • I. 
    Introduction 2
  • II. 
    Background: stomatal hydromechanics 2
  • III. 
    The parsimony of hydro-active local feedback 4
  • IV. 
    Feedforward, or feedback plus? Emergent properties of marginally stable feedback control 8
  • V. 
    Conclusions 14
  • Acknowledgements 14

  • References 14

  • Appendix 17


It is clear that stomata play a critical role in regulating water loss from terrestrial vegetation. What is not clear is how this regulation is achieved. Stomata appear to respond to perturbations of many aspects of the soil–plant–atmosphere hydraulic continuum, but there is little agreement regarding the mechanism (or mechanisms) by which stomata sense such perturbations. This review discusses feedback and feedforward mechanisms by which hydraulic perturbations are putatively transduced into stomatal movements, in relation to generic empirical features of those responses. It is argued that a metabolically mediated feedback response of stomatal guard cells to the water status in their immediate vicinity (‘hydro-active local feedback’) remains the best explanation for many well-known features of hydraulically related stomatal behaviour, such as transient ‘wrong-way’ responses and the equivalence of hydraulic supply and demand as stomatal effectors. Furthermore, many curious phenomena that appear inconsistent with feedback, such as ‘apparent feedforward’ humidity responses and ‘isohydric’ behaviour (water potential homeostasis), are in fact expected to emerge from the juxtaposition of hydro-active local feedback and the well-known hysteretic and threshold-like effect of water potential on xylem hydraulic resistance.