, Volume 173, Issue 3, pp 711–720 | Cite as

Xylem cavitation vulnerability influences tree species’ habitat preferences in miombo woodlands

  • Royd VinyaEmail author
  • Yadvinder Malhi
  • Joshua B. Fisher
  • Nick Brown
  • Timothy J. Brodribb
  • Luiz E. Aragao
Physiological ecology - Original research


Although precipitation plays a central role in structuring Africa’s miombo woodlands, remarkably little is known about plant-water relations in this seasonally dry tropical forest. Therefore, in this study, we investigated xylem vulnerability to cavitation for nine principal tree species of miombo woodlands, which differ in habitat preference and leaf phenology. We measured cavitation vulnerability (Ψ50), stem-area specific hydraulic conductivity (K S), leaf specific conductivity (K L), seasonal variation in predawn water potential (ΨPD) and xylem anatomical properties [mean vessel diameter, mean hydraulic diameter, mean hydraulic diameter accounting for 95 % flow, and maximum vessel length (V L)]. Results show that tree species with a narrow habitat range (mesic specialists) were more vulnerable to cavitation than species with a wide habitat range (generalists). Ψ50 for mesic specialists ranged between −1.5 and −2.2 MPa and that for generalists between −2.5 and −3.6 MPa. While mesic specialists exhibited the lowest seasonal variation in ΨPD, generalists displayed significant seasonal variations in ΨPD suggesting that the two miombo habitat groups differ in their rooting depth. We observed a strong trade-off between K S and Ψ50 suggesting that tree hydraulic architecture is one of the decisive factors setting ecological boundaries for principal miombo species. While vessel diameters correlated weakly (P > 0.05) with Ψ50, V L was positively and significantly correlated with Ψ50. ΨPD was significantly correlated with Ψ50 further reinforcing the conclusion that tree hydraulic architecture plays a significant role in species’ habitat preference in miombo woodlands.


Cavitation Leaf specific conductivity Miombo woodlands Specific hydraulic conductivity Xylem anatomy 



The lead author was funded by a scholarship from the Association of Commonwealth Universities; Copperbelt University provided financial support during field work. We wish to thank the principal of the Zambia Forestry College, the late Mr Saxon N. Siame who provided laboratory work space at the wet miombo site. The District Forestry Officer for Choma district Jones Mulomba is greatly appreciated for his logistical support during our stay on the dry site. Lab assistants in Zambia, Milimo Miyoba and Metson Kasowe are also acknowledged.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 12 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Royd Vinya
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Yadvinder Malhi
    • 1
  • Joshua B. Fisher
    • 1
  • Nick Brown
    • 3
  • Timothy J. Brodribb
    • 4
  • Luiz E. Aragao
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Geography and the EnvironmentOxford University Centre for the EnvironmentOxfordUK
  2. 2.School of Natural ResourcesCopperbelt UniversityKitweZambia
  3. 3.Plant Sciences DepartmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  4. 4.School of Plant SciencesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  5. 5.School of GeographyUniversity of ExeterExeterDevon

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