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Axial conduit widening in woody species: a still neglected anatomical pattern

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Within a tree the lumen of the xylem conduits varies widely (by at least 1 order of magnitude). Transversally in the stem conduits are smaller close to the pith and larger in the outermost rings. Axially (i.e. from petioles to roots) conduits widen from the stem apex downwards in the same tree ring. This axial variation is proposed as being the most efficient anatomical adjustment for stabilizing hydraulic path-length resistance with the progressive growth in height. The hydrodynamic (i.e. physical) constraint shapes the whole xylem conduits column in a very similar way in different species and environments. Our aim is to provide experimental evidence that the axial conduit widening is an ineluctable feature of the vascular system in plants. If evolution has favoured efficient distribution networks (i.e. total resistance is tree-size independent) the axial conduit widening can be predicted downwards along the stem. Indeed, in order to compensate for the increase in path length with growth in height the conduit size should scale as a power function of tree height with an exponent higher than 0.2. Similarly, this approach could be applied in branches and roots but due to the different lengths of the path roots-leaves the patterns of axial variations of conduit size might slightly deviate from the general widening trend. Finally, we emphasize the importance of sampling standardization with respect to tree height for correctly comparing the anatomical characteristics of different individuals.

Affiliations: 1: Università degli Studi di Padova, Dipartimento Territorio e Sistemi Agro Forestali, Viale dell’Università 16, 35020 Legnaro (PD), Italy


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