The evolution and function of vessel and pit characters with respect to cavitation resistance across 10 Prunus species

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Various structure–function relationships regarding drought-induced cavitation resistance of secondary xylem have been postulated. These hypotheses were tested on wood of 10 Prunus species showing a range in P50 (i.e., the pressure corresponding to 50% loss of hydraulic conductivity) from −3.54 to −6.27 MPa. Hydraulically relevant wood characters were quantified using light and electron microscopy. A phylogenetic tree was constructed to investigate evolutionary correlations using a phylogenetically independent contrast (PIC) analysis. Vessel-grouping characters were found to be most informative in explaining interspecific variation in P50, with cavitation-resistant species showing more solitary vessels than less resistant species. Co-evolution between vessel-grouping indices and P50 was reported. P50 was weakly correlated with the shape of the intervessel pit aperture, but not with the total intervessel pit membrane area per vessel. A negative correlation was found between P50 and intervessel pit membrane thickness, but this relationship was not supported by the PIC analysis. Cavitation resistance has co-evolved with vessel grouping within Prunus and was mainly influenced by the spatial distribution of the vessel network.

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