Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems

Defining phreatophyte response to reduced water availability: preliminary investigations on the use of xylem cavitation vulnerability in Banksia woodland species

R. H. Froend A B and P. L. Drake A

A Centre for Ecosystem Management, Edith Cowan University, 100 Joondalup Dve, Joondalup, WA 6027, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Botany 54(2) 173-179
Submitted: 9 May 2005  Accepted: 21 November 2005   Published: 5 April 2006


The consideration of phreatophyte response to changes in water availability is important in identifying ecological water requirements in water-resource planning. Although much is known about water-source partitioning and intra- and interspecific variability in groundwater use by Banksia woodland species, little is known about the response of these species to groundwater draw-down. This paper describes a preliminary study into the use of xylem cavitation vulnerability as a measure of species response to reduced water availability. A response function and critical range in percentage loss of conductance is identified for four Banksia woodland overstorey species. Similarity in the vulnerability curves of B. attenuata R.Br. and B. menziesii R.Br. at low tensions supports the notion that they occupy a similar ecohydrological niche, as defined by their broad distributions relative to depth to groundwater. B. ilicifolia R.Br., however, as an obligate phreatophyte, has a range restricted to environments of higher water availability and shallower depth to groundwater and this is reflected in greater vulnerability to cavitation (relative to other Banksia) at lower tensions. The wetland tree Melaleuca preissiana Schauer generally expressed a greater vulnerability at any given xylem water potential (Ψx). This paper identifies the range in Ψx within which there is an elevated risk of tree mortality, and represents a first step towards quantifying the critical thresholds in the response of Banksia woodland species to reduced water availability.


Bagnouls F Gaussen H 1957 Les climats biologiques et leurs classifications. Annual Géograph 355 193 220

Cochard H Ewers FW Tyree MT 1994 Water relations of the tropical vinelike bamboo (Rhipidocladum racemiflorum): root pressure, vulnerability to cavitation, and season changes in embolism. Journal of Experimental Botany 45 1085 1089

Davidson WA 1995 ‘Hydrogeology and groundwater resources of the Perth region, Western Australia.’ Western Australian Geological Survey Perth

Dawson T Pate J 1996 Seasonal water uptake and movement in root systems of Australian phreatophytic plants of dimorphic root morphology: a stable isotope investigation. Oecologia 107 13 20

Eamus D Froend R Loomes R Hose G Murray B 2006 A functional methodology for determining the groundwater regime needed to maintain the health of groundwater-dependent vegetation. Australian Journal of Botany 54 97 114

Farrington P Greenwood EAN Bartle GA Beresford JD Watson GD 1989 Evaporation from Banksia woodland on a groundwater mound. Journal of Hydrology 105 173 186

Feild TS Brodribb T Jaffré T Holbrook MN 2001 Acclimation of leaf anatomy, photosynthetic light use, and xylem hydraulics to light in Amborella trichopoda (Amborellaceae). International Journal of Plant Sciences 162 999 1008 doi:10.1086/322889

Gentilli J 1972 ‘Australian climate patterns.’ Nelson Melbourne

Glassford DK Semeniuk V 1989 Stratification and disconformities in yellow sands of the Bassendean and Spearwood dunes, Swan Coastal Plain, southwestern Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 72 45 56

Groom PK 2003 Groundwater-dependency and water relations of four Myrtaceae shrub species during a prolonged summer drought. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 86 31 40

Groom PK 2004 Rooting depth and plant water relations explain species distribution patterns within a sandplain landscape. Functional Plant Biology 31 423 428

Groom PK Froend RH Mattiske EM 2000 Impact of groundwater abstraction on a Banksia woodland, Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration 1 117 124 doi:10.1046/j.1442-8903.2000.00033.x

Groom PK Froend R Mattiske EM Gurner R 2001 Long-term changes in vigour and distribution of Banksia and Melaleuca overstorey species on the Swan Coastal Plain. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 84 63 69

Havel JJ 1968 ‘The potential of the northern Swan Coastal Plain for Pinus pinaster (Ait.) plantations.’ Forests Department of Western Australia Perth

Heddle EM 1980 ‘Effects of changes in soil moisture on the native vegetation of the northern Swan Coastal Plain.’ Forests Department of Western Australia Perth

Lam A Froend RH Downes S Loomes R 2004 ‘Water availability and plant response: identifying the water requirements of Banksia woodland on the Gnangara groundwater mound.’ Centre for Ecosystem Management, Edith Cowan University Perth

Machado JL Tyree MT 1994 Patterns of hydraulic architecture and water relations of two tropical canopy trees with contrasting leaf phenologies: Ochroma pyramidale and Pseudobombax septenatum. Tree Physiology 14 219 240

McArthur WM Bettenay E 1960 ‘The development and distribution of soils on the Swan Coastal Plain.’ CSIRO Melbourne

Pammenter NW Vander Willigen C 1998 A mathematical and statistical analysis of the curves illustrating vulnerability of xylem to cavitation. Tree Physiology 18 589 593

Pockman WT Sperry JS 2000 Vulnerability to xylem cavitation and the distribution of Sonoran desert vegetation. American Journal of Botany 87 1287 1299

Speck NH 1952 Plant ecology of the metropolitan sector of the Swan Coastal Plain. M.Sc. Thesis University of Western Australia Perth

Salleo S Lo Gullo MA Trifilo P Nardini A 2004 New evidence for a role of vessel-associated cells and phloem in the rapid xylem refilling of cavitated stems of Laurus nobilis L. Plant, Cell & Environment 27 1065 1076

Sperry JS Stiller V Hacke UG 2003 Xylem hydraulics and the soil–plant–atmosphere continuum: opportunities and unresolved issues. Agronomy Journal 95 1362 1370

Sperry JS Donnelly JR Tyree MT 1988 A method for measuring hydraulic conductivity and embolism in xylem. Plant, Cell & Environment 11 35 40

Tyree MT Sperry JS 1989 Vulnerability of xylem to cavitation and embolism. Annual Reviews of Plant Physiology and Molecular Biology 40 19 38

Vilagrosa A Bellot J Vallejo VR Gil-Pelegrin E 2003 Cavitation, stomal conductance, and leaf dieback in seedlings of two co-occurring Mediterranean shrubs during an intense drought. Journal of Experimental Botany 54 2015 2024 doi:10.1093/jxb/erg221

Zencich SJ Froend RH Turner JV Gailitis V 2002 Influence of groundwater depth on the seasonal sources of water accessed by Banksia tree species on a shallow, sandy coastal aquifer. Oecologia 131 8 19 doi:10.1007/s00442-001-0855-7

Zimmermann MH 1983 ‘Xylem structure and the ascent of sap.’ Springer-Verlag Berlin

Zwieniecki MA Melcher PJ Holbrook NM 2001 Hydrogel control of xylem hydraulic resistance in plants. Science 291 1059 1062 doi:10.1126/science.1057175

Export Citation