Plant survival under extreme drought events has been associated with xylem vulnerability to embolism (the disruption of water transport due to air bubbles in conduits). Despite the ecological and economic importance of herbaceous species, studies focusing on hydraulic failure in herbs remain scarce. Larissa Chacon Dória and colleagues assess the vulnerability to embolism and anatomical adaptations in stems of seven herbaceous Brassicaceae species occurring in different vegetation zones of the island of Tenerife, Canary Islands, and merged them with a similar hydraulic–anatomical data set for herbaceous Asteraceae from Tenerife.
The team performed measurements of vulnerability to xylem embolism using the in situ flow centrifuge technique along with light and transmission electron microscope observations in stems of the herbaceous species. They also assessed the link between embolism resistance against mean annual precipitation and anatomical stem characters.
The authors found that the degree of woodiness and thickness of intervessel pit membranes are good predictors of embolism resistance in the herbaceous Brassicaceae and Asteraceae species studied. Differences in mean annual precipitation across the sampling sites affect embolism resistance and stem anatomical characters, both being important characters determining survival and distribution of the herbaceous eudicots.