Check out our new study by John, Tony, Adam, Teressa and Missy! Reversible leaf xylem collapse: a potential 'circuit breaker' against cavitation.
We report a novel form of xylem dysfunction in angiosperms: reversible collapse of the xylem conduits of the smallest vein orders that demarcate and intrusively irrigate the areoles of Quercus rubra leaves. Cryo-scanning electron microscopy revealed gradual increases in collapse from ~ -2 MPa down to ~ -3 MPa, saturating thereafter (to -4 MPa). Over this range cavitation remained negligible in these veins. Imaging of rehydration experiments showed spatially variable recovery from collapse within 20 seconds, and complete recovery after two minutes. More broadly, the patterns of deformation induced by desiccation in both mesophyll and xylem suggest that cell wall collapse is unlikely to depend solely on individual wall properties, as mechanical constraints imposed by neighbors appear to be important. From the perspective of equilibrium leaf water potentials, petioles, whose vessels extend into the major vein orders, showed a vulnerability to cavitation that overlapped in the water potential domain both minor vein collapse and buckling (turgor loss) of the living cells. However, models of transpiration transients showed that minor vein collapse and mesophyll capacitance could effectively buffer major veins from cavitation over time scales relevant to rectification of stomatal wrong-way responses. We suggest that for angiosperms, whose subsidiary cells give up large volumes to allow large stomatal apertures at the cost of potentially large wrong-way responses, vein collapse could make an important contribution to these plants ability to transpire near the brink of cavitation-inducing water potentials.