Embolism recovery strategies and nocturnal water loss across species influenced by biogeographic origin

Melanie J.B. Zeppel, William R.L. Anderegg, Henry D. Adams, Patrick Hudson, Alicia Cook, Rizwana Rumman, Derek Eamus, David T. Tissue, Stephen Wilson Pacala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Drought-induced tree mortality is expected to increase in future climates with the potential for significant consequences to global carbon, water, and energy cycles. Xylem embolism can accumulate to lethal levels during drought, but species that can refill embolized xylem and recover hydraulic function may be able to avoid mortality. Yet the potential controls of embolism recovery, including cross-biome patterns and plant traits such as nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs), hydraulic traits, and nocturnal stomatal conductance, are unknown. We exposed eight plant species, originating from mesic (tropical and temperate) and semi-arid environments, to drought under ambient and elevated CO 2 levels, and assessed recovery from embolism following rewatering. We found a positive association between xylem recovery and NSCs, and, surprisingly, a positive relationship between xylem recovery and nocturnal stomatal conductance. Arid-zone species exhibited greater embolism recovery than mesic zone species. Our results indicate that nighttime stomatal conductance often assumed to be a wasteful use of water, may in fact be a key part of plant drought responses, and contribute to drought survival. Findings suggested distinct biome-specific responses that partially depended on species climate-of-origin precipitation or aridity index, which allowed some species to recover from xylem embolism. These findings provide improved understanding required to predict the response of diverse plant communities to drought. Our results provide a framework for predicting future vegetation shifts in response to climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5348-5361
Number of pages14
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Ecology


  • carbohydrate starvation
  • drought-induced mortality
  • embolism recovery
  • embolism refilling
  • hydraulic failure
  • nocturnal stomatal conductance
  • nonstructural carbohydrates
  • xylem embolism


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