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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2013

Hydraulic limits on maximum plant transpiration and the emergence of the safety-efficiency trade-off

Manzoni, Stefano; Vico, Giulia; Palmroth, Sari; Jackson, Robert B.; Porporato, Amilcare


Soil and plant hydraulics constrain ecosystem productivity by setting physical limits to water transport and hence carbon uptake by leaves. While more negative xylem water potentials provide a larger driving force for water transport, they also cause cavitation that limits hydraulic conductivity. An optimum balance between driving force and cavitation occurs at intermediate water potentials, thus defining the maximum transpiration rate the xylem can sustain (denoted as Emax). The presence of this maximum raises the question as to whether plants regulate transpiration through stomata to function near Emax. To address this question, we calculated Emax across plant functional types and climates using a hydraulic model and a global database of plant hydraulic traits. The predicted Emax compared well with measured peak transpiration across plant sizes and growth conditions (R=0.86, P<0.001) and was relatively conserved among plant types (for a given plant size), while increasing across climates following the atmospheric evaporative demand. The fact that Emax was roughly conserved across plant types and scales with the product of xylem saturated conductivity and water potential at 50% cavitation was used here to explain the safetyefficiency trade-off in plant xylem. Stomatal conductance allows maximum transpiration rates despite partial cavitation in the xylem thereby suggesting coordination between stomatal regulation and xylem hydraulic characteristics.


hydraulic limitation; safetyefficiency trade-off; soilplantatmosphere model; trait coordination; transpiration; vulnerability to cavitation; xylem conductivity

Published in

New Phytologist
2013, Volume: 198, number: 1, pages: 169-178