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Vessel lumen area is influenced by both genetic and environmental forces. Its alterations balance hydraulic water transport efficiency and safety from cavitation or embolism. We tested the hypothesis that environmental stress inflicted by rockfall injury influences average vessel lumen area in newly formed tree rings of Betula pendula Roth, which would make it useful for retrospective detection of rockfall events. We took samples from 11 trees injured by a rockfall that occurred in the winter of 2010–2011, specifically from the stem area adjacent to the injury, parts of the stem located perpendicular to the injury, parts located opposite to the injury, and from four undisturbed trees. We measured the mean vessel lumen area of each tree ring in every sample, comprising up to 10 pre-event tree rings and generally 3 tree rings formed after rock injury. On average, 115 vessels were measured in each tree ring. We then compared the vessel lumen area in tree rings formed after the event with that of rings formed before it as well as with values predicted by an age-trend model inferred from vessel lumen area chronologies. Our results show a strong reduction in vessel lumen area in the first tree ring formed after the event regardless of the position around the stem circumference. This reduction is strongest in wood just next to the callus tissue zone, with decreasing significance in distal parts of the stem circumference. During the three years after the rockfall, the trees mostly recovered their pre-event vessel lumen area, even right next to the place of injury. Still, this value is significantly lower than the value predicted for growth without injury. Abrupt reductions of vessel lumen area turn out to be potentially useful for identifying former rockfall events and can improve on results obtained by traditional methods of dendrogeomorphological dating.

Affiliations: 1: Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Science, Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Albertov 6, Prague 128 43, Czech; 2: Brown Coal Research Institute, Department of Geotechnology and Hydrogeology, Třída Budovatelů 2830/3, Most 434 37, Czech Republic; 3: Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Science, Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology, Albertov 6, Prague 128 43, Czech Republic


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