Visualization of embolism formation in the xylem of liana stems using neutron radiography

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Abstract

Background and Aims

Cold neutron radiography was applied to directly observe embolism in conduits of liana stems with the aim to evaluate the suitability of this method for studying embolism formation and repair. Potential advantages of this method are a principally non-invasive imaging approach with low energy dose compared with synchrotron X-ray radiation, a good spatial and temporal resolution, and the possibility to observe the entire volume of stem portions with a length of several centimetres at one time.

Methods

Complete and cut stems of Adenia lobata, Aristolochia macrophylla and Parthenocissus tricuspidata were radiographed at the neutron imaging facility CONRAD at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie, with each measurement cycle lasting several hours. Low attenuation gas spaces were separated from the high attenuation (water-containing) plant tissue using image processing.

Key results

Severe cuts into the stem were necessary to induce embolism. The formation and temporal course of an embolism event could then be successfully observed in individual conduits. It was found that complete emptying of a vessel with a diameter of 100 µm required a time interval of 4 min. Furthermore, dehydration of the whole stem section could be monitored via decreasing attenuation of the neutrons.

Conclusions

The results suggest that cold neutron radiography represents a useful tool for studying water relations in plant stems that has the potential to complement other non-invasive methods.

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