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Title: Xylem form and function under extreme nutrient limitation: an example from California's pygmy forest

Xylem anatomy and function have large implications for plant growth as well as survival during drought, but the impact of nutrient limitation on xylem is not fully understood. This study examines the pygmy forest in California, a plant community that experiences negligible water stress but is severely stunted by low‐nutrient and acidic soil, to investigate how nutrient limitation affects xylem function.

Thirteen key anatomical and hydraulic traits of stems of four species were compared between pygmy forest plants and nearby conspecifics growing on richer soil.

Resistance to cavitation (P50), a critical trait for predicting survival during drought, had highly species‐specific responses: in one species, pygmy plants had a 26% decrease in cavitation resistance compared to higher‐nutrient conspecifics, while in another species, pygmy plants had a 56% increase in cavitation resistance. Other traits responded to nutrient limitation more consistently: pygmy plants had smaller xylem conduits and higher leaf‐specific conductivity (KL) than conspecific controls.

Edaphic stress, even in the absence of water stress, altered xylem structure and thus had substantial impacts on water transport. Importantly, nutrient limitation shifted cavitation resistance in a species‐specific and unpredictable manner; this finding has implications for the assessment of cavitation resistance in other natural systems.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
New Phytologist
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 760-769
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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