Evidence for a trade-off between growth rate and xylem cavitation resistance in Callitris rhomboidea

Johnson KM and Brodribb TJ

Tree Physiology


The ideal plant water transport system is one that features high efficiency and resistance to drought-induced damage (xylem cavitation), however, species rarely possess both. This may be explained by trade-offs between traits, yet thus far, no proposed trade-off has offered a universal explanation for the lack of water transport systems that are both highly drought-resistant and highly efficient. Here, we find evidence for a new trade-off, between growth rate and resistance to xylem cavitation, in the canopies of a drought-resistant tree species (Callitris rhomboidea). Wide variation in cavitation resistance (P50) was found in distal branch tips (<2 mm in diameter), converging to low variation in P50 in larger diameter stems (>2 mm). We found a significant correlation between cavitation resistance and distal branchlet internode length across branch tips in C. rhomboidea canopies. Branchlets with long internodes (8 mm or longer) were significantly more vulnerable to drought-induced xylem cavitation than shorter internodes (4 mm or shorter). This suggests that varying growth rates, leading to differences in internode length, drive differences in cavitation resistance in C. rhomboidea trees. The only distinct anatomical difference found between internodes was the pith size, with the average pith to xylem area in long internodes being five times greater than in short internodes. Understanding whether this trade-off exists within and between species will help us to uncover what drives and limits drought resistance across the world’s flora.