Short-time xylem relaxation results in reliable quantification of embolism in grapevine petioles and sheds new light on their hydraulic strategy

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In recent years, the validity of embolism quantification methods has been questioned, especially for long-vesseled plants. Some studies have suggested that cutting xylem while under tension, even under water, might generate artificial cavitation. Accordingly, a rehydration procedure prior to hydraulic measurements has been recommended to avoid this artefact. On the other hand, concerns have been raised that xylem refilling might occur when samples are rehydrated. Here, we explore the potential biases affecting embolism quantification for grapevine (Vitis vinifera L.) petioles harvested under tension or after xylem relaxation. We employ direct visualization of embolism through X-ray micro-computed tomography (microCT) to test for the occurrence of fast refilling (artifactually low per cent loss of conductivity (PLC) due to rehydration prior to sample harvest) as well as excision-induced embolism (artifactually high embolism due to air introduction during harvest). Additionally, we compared the response functions of both stomatal regulation and xylem embolism to xylem pressure (Ψx). Short-time (20 min) xylem tension relaxation prior to the hydraulic measurement resulted in a lower degree of embolism than found in samples harvested under native tensions, and yielded xylem vulnerability curves similar to the ones obtained using direct microCT visualization. Much longer periods of hydration (overnight) were required before xylem refilling was observed to occur. In field-grown vines, over 85% of stomatal closure occurred at less negative Ψx than that required to induce 12% PLC. Our results demonstrate that relaxation of xylem tension prior to hydraulic measurement allows for the reliable quantification of native embolism in grapevine petioles. Furthermore, we find that stomatal regulation is sufficiently conservative to avoid transpiration-induced cavitation. These results suggest that grapevines have evolved a strategy of cavitation resistance, rather than one of cavitation tolerance (diurnal cycles of embolism and repair).

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