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. 2018 Mar;41(3):548-562.
doi: 10.1111/pce.13106. Epub 2018 Jan 29.

Xylem Hydraulic Safety and Construction Costs Determine Tropical Tree Growth


Xylem Hydraulic Safety and Construction Costs Determine Tropical Tree Growth

Cleiton B Eller et al. Plant Cell Environ. .


Faster growth in tropical trees is usually associated with higher mortality rates, but the mechanisms underlying this relationship are poorly understood. In this study, we investigate how tree growth patterns are linked with environmental conditions and hydraulic traits, by monitoring the cambial growth of 9 tropical cloud forest tree species coupled with numerical simulations using an optimization model. We find that fast-growing trees have lower xylem safety margins than slow-growing trees and this pattern is not necessarily linked to differences in stomatal behaviour or environmental conditions when growth occurs. Instead, fast-growing trees have xylem vessels that are more vulnerable to cavitation and lower density wood. We propose the growth - xylem vulnerability trade-off represents a wood hydraulic economics spectrum similar to the classic leaf economic spectrum, and show through numerical simulations that this trade-off can emerge from the coordination between growth rates, wood density, and xylem vulnerability to cavitation. Our results suggest that vulnerability to hydraulic failure might be related with the growth-mortality trade-off in tropical trees, determining important life history differences. These findings are important in furthering our understanding of xylem hydraulic functioning and its implications on plant carbon economy.

Keywords: cloud forests; drought; hydraulic safety margin; plant hydraulics; trade-off; tree mortality.

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