Mrad, A., Domec, J.C., Huang, C.-W., Lens, F., Katul, G., 2018 – A network model links wood anatomy to xylem tissue hydraulic behavior and vulnerability to cavitation

Plant Hydraulics

While the term “plant hydraulics” refers to the study of how plants use water, our project aims at better understanding how plants lose their ability to use water efficiently.

Flowering plants rely on ducts, called vessels, to transport water from the roots to the leaves (shown in the figure below). The process through which water transport happens is fascinating: the plant can lift water tens of meters against gravity without an organ similar to the heart in humans. The method used by the plant, as described by the Cohesion-Tension theory, comes with the risk of air bubbles filling the vessels and blocking water movement. This happens after prolonged droughts.

Hardwood Pore Image
Cross-sectional view of Oak vessels (Attribution: McKDandy at English Wikipedia)

Our research is focused on discerning what anatomical features, on the micro- and nano-meter scales, affect how plants lose their efficient water use abilities. Doing so helps:

  • bridging a gap between the endeavors of anatomists and those of ecologists,
  • identifying advantageous anatomical features for different climate conditions, and
  • understanding how microscopic phenomena, like water movement in vessels and air bubble formation, upscale to affect whole-plant health and vice-versa.

Our work has both a numerical and analytical approach.