Wood diameter indicates diurnal and long-term patterns of xylem water potential in Norway spruce
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The stem diameter of adult Norway spruce trees was measured to see whether changes in xylem water potential lead to detectable radial deformation of the wood. The dendrometers used in these experiments measured only the dimensional changes of the woody cylinder (sap- and heartwood). Wood diameter was measured close to the ground and just below the living crown. After correction for thermal expansion of dendrometers and wood, diurnal variation of wood diameter ranged between 50 and 180 µm. Psychrometric measurements showed that xylem water potential varied in parallel to wood diameter. Diameter changes were always more pronounced at the higher stem position and exhibited a clear diurnal pattern. During the day, wood diameter decreased with increasing vapor pressure deficit and transpiration rate and with decreasing twig water potential. At night, the wood re-expanded but did not always reach the dimension of the previous day. Pre-dawn wood diameter decreased during periods of soil drought, a process which rapidly stopped and reversed after rain events. On several days, oscillation in wood diameter was observed during the mid-day hours. The oscillation had a period of approximately 50 min and showed a phase shift between different stem heights. All observed patterns of wood shrinkage and expansion were consistent with the hypothesis that xylem water tension leads to an elastic contraction of xylem conduits. The results demonstrate that xylem diameter is more suitable than whole-stem diameter for monitoring changes in xylem water potential.
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