, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 501-509

Differential sectoriality in long-distance transport in temperate tree species: evidence from dye flow, 15N transport, and vessel element pitting

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The capture of patchily distributed nutrients by tree roots has received extensive research, but the fate of those nutrients has not. We performed experiments to determine if nutrient transport within tree species is preferentially transported from specific roots to specific branches. Saplings of five species with contrasting growth requirements were examined: two Betula species (B. papyrifera and B. lenta), Populus tremuloides, and two Acer species (A. saccharum and A. rubrum). To quantify patterns of long-distance transport, we examined the accumulation of safranin-O dye and 15N in branches when these tracers were applied to isolated lateral roots (dye and 15N) and to the main root system (15N). Because transport of nutrients between sectors requires flow through intervessel pit pairs of adjacent xylem vessel elements, we quantified the area of intervessel pits, the number of pits per unit vessel wall area, and the % vessel wall area as pits in Acer and Betula. We found that the two Betula species were integrated (tracers applied to isolated roots were likely to accumulate in all branches), while P. tremuloides and the two Acer species were sectorial (tracer accumulation was more concentrated in particular branches). Betula had the largest number of intervessel pits per unit vessel wall area and the largest percentage of vessel wall area as pits. The high density of bordered pits may explain the ease of tracer movement throughout the two Betula species. Greater integration may allow certain trees (e.g., Betula) to exploit nutritionally patchy environments such as rocky soils, and may alter plant-herbivore interactions.