Chin J Plan Ecolo ›› 2016, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (8): 834-846.doi: 10.17521/cjpe.2016.0118

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Mechanisms of xylem embolism repair in woody plants: Research progress and questions

Ying JIN, Chuan-Kuan WANG*(), Zheng-Hu ZHOU   

  1. Center for Ecological Research, Northeast Forestry University, Harbin 150040, China
  • Online:2016-08-23 Published:2016-08-10
  • Contact: Chuan-Kuan WANG


To maintain long-distance water transport in woody plants is critical for their survival, growth and development. Water under tension is in a metastable state and prone to cavitation and embolism, which leads to loss of hydraulic conductance, reduced productivity, and eventually plant death. In face to water stress-induced cavitation, plants either reduce frequency of embolism occurrence through cavitation resistance with specialized anatomical struc- ture, or/and form a metabolically active embolism repair mechanism. For the xylem embolism and repair, however, there are controversies regarding the occurring frequency, conditions and underlying mechanisms. In this review paper, we first examined the process, temporal dynamics and frequency of xylem embolism and repair. Then, we summarized hypotheses for the mechanisms of the novel refilling in xylem embolism repair, including the osmotic hypothesis, the reverse osmotic hypothesis, the phloem-driven refilling hypothesis, and the phloem unloading hypothesis. We further compared differences in xylem embolism and repair between conifers and angiosperms tree species, and examined the trade-offs between cavitation resistance and xylem recovery performance. Finally, we proposed four priorities in future research in this field: (1) to improve measuring technology of xylem embolism; (2) to test hypotheses for the mechanisms of the novel refilling in xylem embolism repair and the signal triggering xylem refilling; (3) to explore species-specific trait differences related to xylem embolism and repair and their underlying trade-off relationships; and (4) to enhance studies on the relationship between the involvement of carbon metabolism and aquaporins expression in xylem embolism and repair.

Key words: xylem embolism, embolism repair, embolism frequency, novel refilling, phloem unloading

Fig. 1

Four hypotheses for the mechanisms of the novel refilling in xylem embolism repair. Red and blue arrows represent solutes and water flow, respectively; the dash arrows represent the signal from parenchyma cells."

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