The standard centrifuge method has been frequently used to measure vulnerability to xylem cavitation. This method has recently been questioned. It was hypothesized that open vessels lead to exponential vulnerability curves, which were thought to be indicative of measurement artifact. We tested this hypothesis in stems of olive (Olea europea) because its long vessels were recently claimed to produce a centrifuge artifact. We evaluated three predictions that followed from the open vessel artifact hypothesis: shorter stems, with more open vessels, would be more vulnerable than longer stems; standard centrifuge-based curves would be more vulnerable than dehydration-based curves; and open vessels would cause an exponential shape of centrifuge-based curves. Experimental evidence did not support these predictions. Centrifuge curves did not vary when the proportion of open vessels was altered. Centrifuge and dehydration curves were similar. At highly negative xylem pressure, centrifuge-based curves slightly overestimated vulnerability compared to the dehydration curve. This divergence was eliminated by centrifuging each stem only once. The standard centrifuge method produced accurate curves of samples containing open vessels, supporting the validity of this technique and confirming its utility in understanding plant hydraulics. Seven recommendations for avoiding artefacts and standardizing vulnerability curve methodology are provided.
Keywords: Olea europea (olive); cavitation; centrifuge method; embolism; hydraulic conductivity; vessel length; vulnerability curve; xylem.
© 2014 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2014 New Phytologist Trust.