Water uptake by roots: effects of water deficit

J Exp Bot. 2000 Sep;51(350):1531-42. doi: 10.1093/jexbot/51.350.1531.


The variable hydraulic conductivity of roots (Lp(r)) is explained in terms of a composite transport model. It is shown how the complex, composite anatomical structure of roots results in a composite transport of both water and solutes. In the model, the parallel apoplastic and cell-to-cell (symplastic and transcellular) pathways play an important role as well as the different tissues and structures arranged in series within the root cylinder (epidermis, exodermis, cortex, endodermis, stelar parenchyma). The roles of Casparian bands and suberin lamellae in the root's endo- and exodermis are discussed. Depending on the developmental state of these apoplastic barriers, the overall hydraulic resistance of roots is either more evenly distributed across the root cylinder (young unstressed roots) or is concentrated in certain layers (exo- and endodermis in older stressed roots). The reason for the variability of root Lp(r), is that hydraulic forces cause a dominating apoplastic flow of water around protoplasts, even in the endodermis and exodermis. In the absence of transpiration, water flow is osmotic in nature which causes a high resistance as water passes across many membranes on its passage across the root cylinder. The model allows for a high capability of roots to take up water in the presence of high rates of transpiration (high demands for water from the shoot). By contrast, the hydraulic conductance is low, when transpiration is switched off. Overall, this results in a non-linear relationship between water flow and forces (gradients of hydrostatic and osmotic pressure) which is otherwise hard to explain. The model allows for special root characteristics such as a high hydraulic conductivity (water permeability) in the presence of a low permeability of nutrient ions once taken up into the stele by active processes. Low root reflection coefficients are in line with the idea of some apoplastic bypasses for water within the root cylinder. According to the composite transport model, the switch from the hydraulic to the osmotic mode is purely physical. In the presence of heavily suberized roots, the apoplastic component of water flow may be too small. Under these conditions, a regulation of radial water flow by water channels dominates. Since water channels are under metabolic control, this component represents an 'active' element of regulation. Composite transport allows for an optimization of the water balance of the shoot in addition to the well-known phenomena involved in the regulation of water flow (gas exchange) across stomata. The model is employed to explain the responses of plants to water deficit and other stresses. During water deficit, the cohesion-tension mechanism of the ascent of sap in the xylem plays an important role. Results are summarized which prove the validity of the coehesion/tension theory. Effects of the stress hormone abscisic acid (ABA) are presented. They show that there is an apoplastic component of the flow of ABA in the root which contributes to the ABA signal in the xylem. On the other hand, (+)-cis-trans-ABA specifically affects both the cell level (water channel activity) and water flow driven by gradients in osmotic pressure at the root level which is in agreement with the composite transport model. Hydraulic water flow in the presence of gradients in hydrostatic pressure remains unchanged. The results agree with the composite transport model and resemble earlier findings of high salinity obtained for the cell (Lp) and root (Lp(r)) level. They are in line with known effects of nutrient deprivation on root Lp(r )and the diurnal rhythm of root Lp(r )recently found in roots of LOTUS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abscisic Acid / metabolism
  • Biological Transport
  • Plant Roots / metabolism*
  • Water / metabolism*


  • Water
  • Abscisic Acid