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Functional xylem anatomy: intra and interspecific variation in stems of herbaceous and woody species

woensdag 9 oktober 2019
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden


My PhD thesis investigates (1) the ecological significance of drought-induced air bubble formation inside the water conducting cells of plants, a phenomenon known as embolism resistance that is an often-cited proxy for drought resistance in plants, and (2) the plasticity and functional aspects of stem anatomical traits in woody and herbaceous species. I revealed the impact of temperature, precipitation and soil conditions on wood anatomical variation in tree populations from the two seasonally dry environments in Brazil. Additionally, I linked plant height as the main source for wood trait variation along the main trunk for the same tree populations. The functional significance of embolism resistance was confirmed in shrubby and herbaceous species on Tenerife, Canary Islands, where the more embolism resistant species occur in the drier areas of the island. The anatomical characters that best explained differences in embolism resistance across the Tenerife species were thickness of intervessel pit membranes (TPM) and the amount of stem woodiness. In a daisy clade including derived woody island species and their continental herbaceous counterparts, I found that TPM is the direct functional link explaining the indirect positive relationship between increased wood formation and increased embolism resistance. This result matches with an ongoing global study highlighting the frequent occurrence of derived woody species in dry areas worldwide. These combined anatomical and hydraulic results contribute to our understanding of plant adaptation to drought, which will be essential to accurately predict tree mortality under the expected climate change scenario.


  • Prof.dr. E Smets


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Maarten Muns, adviseur wetenschapscommunicatie Universiteit Leiden
071 527 3282

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