Reduced photosynthesis in old oak (Quercus robur): the impact of crown and hydraulic architecture

Tree Physiol. 2002 Jun;22(8):597-601. doi: 10.1093/treephys/22.8.597.


We tested the hypothesis that changes in crown architecture of old pedunculate oak trees (Quercus robur L. ssp. robur Kl. et Kr. et Rol.) reduce leaf specific hydraulic conductance of shoots, thereby limiting stomatal conductance and assimilation of affected shoots. At the end of summer 1999, hydraulic conductance and leaf specific hydraulic conductance, measured with a high-pressure flow meter in 0.5- to 1.5-m long shoots, were 27 and 39% lower, respectively, in shoots of low vigor compared with vigorously growing shoots in a 165-year- old stand in southeastern Germany. Two types of bottlenecks to water transport can be identified in shoots of old oak trees, namely nodes and abscission zones. The reduction in hydraulic conductance was especially severe in shoots with diameters of less than 2 mm. Maximum stomatal conductance and maximum net assimilation rate increased significantly with hydraulic conductance and leaf specific hydraulic conductance. Our data support the hypothesis that changes in shoot and consequently crown architecture observed in aging trees can limit photosynthesis by reducing shoot hydraulic conductance. Thus, in addition to increasing pathway length and lower conductivity of xylem in old trees, structural changes in shoot and crown architecture need to be considered when analyzing water relations and photosynthesis in mature and declining trees.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Photosynthesis / physiology*
  • Plant Transpiration / physiology
  • Quercus / physiology*
  • Trees / physiology*