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Drought-induced embolism formation in vascular conduits of plants restricts photosynthesis and growth. Variation in vulnerability to embolism between species is well documented, but spatial and temporal patterns in xylem vulnerability and structure have not been thoroughly explored. Vulnerability to embolism in the plant vascular network was evaluated along the root-to-leaf pathway in sapling and mature life history stages of two common hardwood species, red maple (Acer rubrum) and red oak (Quercus rubra). A. rubrum was less vulnerable to embolism than Q.rubra. There was no difference in vulnerability to embolism between sapling and mature trees within either species when compared across tissue types. While Q. rubra exhibited only a slightly higher vulnerability in petiole than trunk tissue, A. rubrum exhibited greater vulnerability in petiole and current-year stem tissue than trunk and multi-year stem tissue. A. rubrum xylem vessels in the current growth rings of multi-year stem and trunk tissue were also less vulnerable than vessels formed the previous year, though there was no corresponding difference in Q. rubra. Diameters of A. rubrum vessels were approximately half that of Q. rubra vessels, but no relationship between vulnerability and vessel diameter was observed within tissue-types of either species. This study highlights differences in patterns of vulnerability related to xylem structure and reveals similarities in the weakest links of the vascular architecture of two temperate tree species. Considering projected increases in drought intensity due to climate change, these data have important implications for future timber management plans and conservation strategies.

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Restricted: Embargoed [Open Access After Expiration]

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Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

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1 pdf file


Available to all on Friday, May 29, 2026