Carbon uptake and transpiration in plant leaves occurs through stomata that open and close. Stomatal action is usually considered a response to environmental driving factors. Here we show that leaf gas exchange is more strongly related to whole tree level transport of assimilates than previously thought, and that transport of assimilates is a restriction of stomatal opening comparable with hydraulic limitation. Assimilate transport in the phloem requires that osmotic pressure at phloem loading sites in leaves exceeds the drop in hydrostatic pressure that is due to transpiration. Assimilate transport thus competes with transpiration for water. Excess sugar loading, however, may block the assimilate transport because of viscosity build-up in phloem sap. Therefore, for given conditions, there is a stomatal opening that maximizes phloem transport if we assume that sugar loading is proportional to photosynthetic rate. Here we show that such opening produces the observed behaviour of leaf gas exchange. Our approach connects stomatal regulation directly with sink activity, plant structure and soil water availability as they all influence assimilate transport. It produces similar behaviour as the optimal stomatal control approach, but does not require determination of marginal cost of water parameter.
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