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
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

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.


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