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A semi-automated method for measuring xylem vessel length distribution


Knowledge about the length of xylem vessels is essential to understand water transport in plants because these multicellular units show a 100-fold variation, from less than a centimeter to many meters. However, the available methods to estimate vessel length (VL) distribution are excessively time consuming and do not allow large and in-depth surveys. Here, we describe a semi-automated method to measure hydraulically-weighted VL (VLH) using an automated Pneumatron device. Gas conductivity of a xylem tissue with a certain length is estimated with the Pneumatron in a straightforward and precise way, theoretically similar to the air-injection method. Besides giving results similar to the silicone-injection method, the pneumatic-based method enables faster and easier measurements of more than 50 samples per day, which is a significant advantage. Herein, a detailed description of the methodology is presented as well as the software and an R-script for data analysis. The method described represents an important contribution to studies on plant hydraulic architecture and can improve our understanding about the role of VLH in plant performance under varying water availability.

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The authors acknowledge the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP, Brazil) for the research grant (E.C.M, R.V.R., L.P. and M.T.M., Grant 2019/15276-8), fellowship (L.P. and R.V.R., Grant 2017/14075‐3) and scholarship (M.T.M. and R.V.R., Grant 2018/09834‐5). E.C.M. and R.V.R. are fellows of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq, Brazil). S.J., L.K., and X.G. acknowledge financial support from the German Research Foundation (DFG, Project Nr. 383393940 and 410768178). We thank two anonymous reviewers for useful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Luciano Pereira or Rafael V. Ribeiro.

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Pereira, L., Miranda, M.T., Pires, G.S. et al. A semi-automated method for measuring xylem vessel length distribution. Theor. Exp. Plant Physiol. 32, 331–340 (2020).

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  • Plant hydraulics
  • Pneumatic method
  • Pneumatron
  • Vessel
  • Xylem
  • Water relations