Stem-mediated hydraulic redistribution in large roots on opposing sides of a Douglas-fir tree following localized irrigation


Author for correspondence:
Kathy Steppe
Tel: +32 9 264 61 12


  • Increasing evidence about hydraulic redistribution and its ecological consequences is emerging. Hydraulic redistribution results from an interplay between competing plant and soil water potential gradients. In this work, stem-mediated hydraulic redistribution was studied in a 53-year-old Douglas-fir tree during a period of drought.
  • Sap flux density measurements using the heat field deformation method were performed at four locations: in two large opposing roots and on two sides of the tree stem. Hydraulic redistribution was induced by localized irrigation on one of the measured roots, creating heterogeneous soil water conditions.
  • Stem-mediated hydraulic redistribution was detected during night-time conditions when water was redistributed from the wet side of the tree to the nonirrigated dry side. In addition to stem-mediated hydraulic redistribution, bidirectional flow in the dry root was observed, indicating radial sectoring in the xylem.
  • It was observed that, through stem-mediated hydraulic redistribution, Douglas-fir was unable to increase its transpiration despite the fact that sufficient water was available to one part of the root system. This resulted from the strong water potential gradient created by the dry soil in contact with the nonirrigated part of the root system. A mechanism of stem-mediated hydraulic redistribution is proposed and its possible implications are discussed.