Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2019, Vol. 43 ›› Issue (8): 635-647.doi: 10.17521/cjpe.2019.0076

• Reviews •     Next Articles

Research progress on responses of xylem of woody plants to freeze-thaw embolism

LI Zhi-Min,WANG Chuan-Kuan()   

  1. and Ministry of Education Key Laboratory of Sustainable Forest Ecosystem Management, Northeast Forestry University, Harbin 150040, China
  • Received:2019-04-07 Revised:2019-08-02 Online:2020-01-03 Published:2019-08-20
  • Contact: WANG Chuan-Kuan ORCID:0000-0003-3513-5426
  • Supported by:
    National Key R&D Program of China(2016YFD0600201);Program for Changjiang Scholars and Innovative Research Team in University(IRT_15R09)


Embolism induced by the freeze-thaw commonly occurs in the woody plant in mid- and high-latitude regions. In cold environments, the resistance capacity to freeze-thaw embolism of woody plants is critical for their growth and successful survival throughout winter, which directly determines their distribution in the earth. During freeze-thaw cycles, the freeze-thaw embolism of vessels is induced by the bubbles that are from dissolved frozen water because of the low solubility of ice. The resistance capacity to freeze-thaw embolism varies from plants with different anatomical structures. Plants can also reduce potential damages of freeze-thaw embolism through adjusting the xylem positive pressure by refilling embolism and metabolism, and/or increasing the sap solute contents to avoid the stress. Compared to embolism induced by drought, however, few studies have been conducted on embolism by freeze-thaw, and the underlying mechanisms of plant responses and regulation are poorly understood. In this paper, we first reviewed the process of formation and repair of freeze-thaw embolism of xylem, including the strategies of escaping freezing, tolerance, and repairing freeze-thaw cavitation. Then we summarized physiological characteristics of plant resistance to low-temperature stress, influencing factors and evaluating criteria, based on the multiple trade-offs between low-temperature resistance, drought resistance, and hydraulic efficiency. Finally, we proposed five priorities for future study in this field: (1) the threshold of freezing temperature for different plants; (2) the vulnerability segmentation of frost-induced embolism; (3) the relationships between freeze-thaw cavitation repair and metabolism exhaustion; (4) the potential trade-offs between low-temperature resistance, drought resistance and hydraulic efficiency; and (5) integration of the traits of freeze-thaw embolism resistance into the economic spectrum of plants.

Key words: freeze-thaw embolism, embolism repair, hydraulic efficiency, trade-off, hydraulic characteristic

Fig. 1

Three responding strategies of xylem to freeze-thaw embolism."

Fig. 2

A conceptual diagram of multiple trade-offs among low-temperature resistance, drought resistance and hydraulic efficiency of the major vegetation types in the world. High (low) hydraulic efficiency is associated with weak (strong) low-temperature resistance, but the capacity of positive refilling embolism may influence the trade-off between hydraulic efficiency and low-temperature resistance, and low-temperature also affects the plant’s frost fatigue. High (low) hydraulic efficiency is associated with weak (strong) drought resistance, but many species have both low hydraulic efficiency and drought resistance rather than high hydraulic efficiency and drought resistance. Drought stress may increase low-temperature resistance (asynchronous), and vice versa; concomitant drought and low-temperature stresses aggravate the loss of hydraulic conductance, but there are no related impacts of drought and low-temperature stresses on the hydraulic system."

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