Welcome to the Holbrook lab! We study the physics and physiology of vascular transport in plants with the goal of understanding how constraints on the movement of water and solutes between soil and leaves influences ecological and evolutionary processes. Currently, we are working on questions relating to cavitation, stomatal mechanics, leaf hydraulic design, and xylem evolution.

Latest News

Talk at Harvard Forest - Wally Fulweiler

March 11, 2016

Wally Fulweiler Visiting Bullard Fellow in Holbrook Lab will be giving a talk on "The Terrestrial Silica Pump-Exploring the Role of Vegetation in Altering the Flux of Si to the Coastal Ocean" at Harvard Forest, March 11, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. 324 N. Main Street, Petersham, MA.

Recent Travel of Lab Members

February 18, 2016
Many of our lab members have been out and about recently! John recently came back from a 6 day trip to Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. And Greg recently came back from a 5-day workshop in Manaus, Brazil where he gave a talk entitled: Wood anatomy; basics and tree ring recognition, and was a co-instructor for a course on the basics of tree ring analysis. 

Recent Publications

Ronellenfitsch, H, J Liesche, KH Jensen, NM Holbrook, A Schulz, and E Katifori. 2015. “Scaling of Phloem Structure and Optimality of Photoassimilate Transport in Conifer Needles.” Proc Biol Sci 282: 20141863.Abstract

The phloem vascular system facilitates transport of energy-rich sugar and signalling molecules in plants, thus permitting long-range communication within the organism and growth of non-photosynthesizing organs such as roots and fruits. The flow is driven by osmotic pressure, generated by differences in sugar concentration between distal parts of the plant. The phloem is an intricate distribution system, and many questions about its regulation and structural diversity remain unanswered. Here, we investigate the phloem structure in the simplest possible geometry: a linear leaf, found, for example, in the needles of conifer trees. We measure the phloem structure in four tree species representing a diverse set of habitats and needle sizes, from 1 (Picea omorika) to 35 cm (Pinus palustris). We show that the phloem shares common traits across these four species and find that the size of its conductive elements obeys a power law. We present a minimal model that accounts for these common traits and takes into account the transport strategy and natural constraints. This minimal model predicts a power law phloem distribution consistent with transport energy minimization, suggesting that energetics are more important than translocation speed at the leaf level.

Zhang, YJ, NM Holbrook, and KF Cao. 2014. “Seasonal Dynamics in Photosynthesis of Woody Plants at the Northern Limit of Asian Tropics: Potential Role of Fog in Maintaining Tropical Rainforests and Agriculture in Southwest China.” Tree Physiol 34: 1069-78.Abstract

The lowland tropical rainforests in Xishuangbanna, Southwest (SW) China, mark the northern limit of Asian tropics. Fog has been hypothesized to play a role in maintaining rainforests and tropical crop production in this region, but the physiological mechanism has not been studied. The goals of this study were to characterize the seasonal dynamics in photosynthesis and to assess the potential for fog to mitigate chilling-induced photodamage for tropical trees and crops in Xishuangbanna. We measured seasonal dynamics in light-saturated net photosynthetic rate (Aa), stomatal conductance (gs), intercellular CO2 concentration, quantum yield of Photosystem II (Fv/Fm) and maximum P700 changes (Pm; indicates the amount of active PSI complex), as well as chilling resistance and fog (light/shading) effects on low temperature-induced decline in Fv/Fm and Pm for native tree and introduced lower latitude tree or woody shrub species grown in a tropical botanical garden. Despite significant decreases in Aa, gs, Pm and Fv/Fm, most species maintained considerably high Aa during the cool season (2.51-14.6 mumol m(-2) s(-1)). Shaded leaves exposed to seasonal low temperatures had higher Fv/Fm than sun-exposed leaves in the cool season. All species could tolerate 1.4 degrees C in the dark, whereas a combined treatment of low temperature and high light caused a distinctly faster decline in Pm and Fv/Fm compared with low temperature treatment alone. Because fog persistence avoids or shortens the duration of high light condition in the morning when the temperatures are still low, our results provide support for the hypothesis that fog reduces chilling damage to tropical plants in this region and thus plays a role in maintaining tropical rainforests and agriculture in SW China.

Oliva Carrasco, L, SJ Bucci, D Di Francescantonio, OA Lezcano, PI Campanello, FG Scholz, S Rodriguez, et al. 2014. “Water Storage Dynamics in the Main Stem of Subtropical Tree Species Differing in Wood Density, Growth Rate and Life History Traits.” Tree Physiol.Abstract

Wood biophysical properties and the dynamics of water storage discharge and refilling were studied in the trunk of canopy tree species with diverse life history and functional traits in subtropical forests of northeast Argentina. Multiple techniques assessing capacitance and storage capacity were used simultaneously to improve our understanding of the functional significance of internal water sources in trunks of large trees. Sapwood capacitances of 10 tree species were characterized using pressure-volume relationships of sapwood samples obtained from the trunk. Frequency domain reflectometry was used to continuously monitor the volumetric water content in the main stems. Simultaneous sap flow measurements on branches and at the base of the tree trunk, as well as diurnal variations in trunk contraction and expansion, were used as additional measures of stem water storage use and refilling dynamics. All evidence indicates that tree trunk internal water storage contributes from 6 to 28% of the daily water budget of large trees depending on the species. The contribution of stored water in stems of trees to total daily transpiration was greater for deciduous species, which exhibited higher capacitance and lower sapwood density. A linear relationship across species was observed between wood density and growth rates with the higher wood density species (mostly evergreen) associated with lower growth rates and the lower wood density species (mostly deciduous) associated with higher growth rates. The large sapwood capacitance in deciduous species may help to avoid catastrophic embolism in xylem conduits. This may be a low-cost adaptation to avoid water deficits during peak water use at midday and under temporary drought periods and will contribute to higher growth rates in deciduous tree species compared with evergreen ones. Large capacitance appears to have a central role in the rapid growth patterns of deciduous species facilitating rapid canopy access as these species are less shade tolerant than evergreen species.