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Safety Factors for Xylem Failure by Implosion and Air-Seeding Within Roots, Trunks and Branches of Young and Old Conifer Trees

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The cohesion-tension theory of water transport states that hydrogen bonds hold water molecules together and that they are pulled through the xylem under tension. This tension could cause transport failure in at least two ways: collapse of the conduit walls (implosion), or rupture of the water column through air-seeding. The objective of this research was to elucidate the functional significance of variations in tracheid anatomical features, earlywood to latewood ratios and wood densities with position in young and old Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine trees in terms of their consequences for the safety factors for tracheid implosion and air-seeding. For both species, wood density increased linearly with percent latewood for root, trunk and branch samples. However, the relationships between anatomy and hydraulic function in trunks differed from those in roots and branches. In roots and branches increased hydraulic efficiency was achieved at the cost of increased vulnerability to air-seeding. Mature wood of trunks had earlywood with wide tracheids that optimized water transport and had a high percentage of latewood that optimized structural support. Juvenile wood had higher resistance to air-seeding and cell wall implosion. The two safety factors followed similar axial trends from roots to terminal branches and were similar for both species studied and between juvenile and mature wood.


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