Plant Ecology

, Volume 217, Issue 6, pp 697–710 | Cite as

Post-fire resprouting oaks (genus: Quercus) exhibit plasticity in xylem vulnerability to drought

  • Dylan W. SchwilkEmail author
  • Tailor E. Brown
  • Russell Lackey
  • Joshua Willms


Resprouting is a key functional trait for species in disturbance prone environments. In many semi-arid environments, woody plants face both fire and drought as recurring disturbances. Past work has demonstrated that oaks inhabiting sky-island forests of the northern Sierra Madre Oriental have differing microhabitat preferences and heavy stem dieback occured during the historic 2011 drought indicating potential xylem failure. These oak species, representing two sections within the genus, are all post-fire resprouters: they can resprout from underground storage organs when fire kills above ground tissue. Resprouts provide an opportunity to examine how functional traits may change as plastic responses to changing environmental conditions. Post-fire resprouts have increased root:shoot ratios relative to adults and therefore have access to more water relative to leaf demand. We expected that if resprouts exhibit plasticity in xylem function, they should favor water transport efficiency over safety: they should have higher maximum xylem conductivity, but greater susceptibility to drought-induced cavitation. We examined four oak species common in the Davis Mountains in west Texas and compared adult physiology with that of resprouts following wildfire. We found that species differed in degree of desiccation avoidance (isohydry) consistent with microhabitat preferences and that the species that were most desiccation tolerant as adults had resprouts significantly more susceptible to xylem cavitation. We found no evidence for a trade-off between efficiency and safety, however.


Fire Resprouting Drought Xylem cavitation Plasticity Desiccation 



We thank Anna Jacobsen, Brandon Pratt, and Mike Tobin for sharing techniques and helping trouble-shoot our conductivity measurement methods. A grant from the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch to R. Lackey supported some of our early work in this system and helped us develop methods and a grant from the USGS South-Central Climate Science Center to D. Schwilk supported some of the later work. T. Brown and J. Willms were in part supported by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant through the Undergraduate Biological Sciences Education Program to Texas Tech University. We thank Jason Wrinkle, Greg Crow, and the other helpful staff of the Nature Conservancy for essential support of this work. We thank the associate editor and two anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This article is dedicated to the memory of Christopher Rodriguez who planned to investigate drought susceptibility of post-fire oak resprouts and whose enthusiasm for learning and excitement for the project inspired others to continue.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht (outside the USA) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dylan W. Schwilk
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tailor E. Brown
    • 1
  • Russell Lackey
    • 1
  • Joshua Willms
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA

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