Importance of internal hydraulic redistribution for prolonging the lifespan of roots in dry soil

T. L. Bauerle, J. H. Richards, D. R. Smart, D. M. Eissenstat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


Redistribution of water within plants could mitigate drought stress of roots in zones of low soil moisture. Plant internal redistribution of water from regions of high soil moisture to roots in dry soil occurs during periods of low evaporative demand. Using minirhizotrons, we observed similar lifespans of roots in wet and dry soil for the grapevine 'Merlot' (Vitis vinifera) on the rootstock 101-14 Millardet de Gramanet (Vitis riparia x Vitis rupestris) in a Napa County, California vineyard. We hypothesized that hydraulic redistribution would prevent an appreciable reduction in root water potential and would contribute to prolonged root survivorship in dry soil zones. In a greenhouse study that tested this hypothesis, grapevine root systems were divided using split pots and were grown for 6 months. With thermocouple psychrometers, we measured water potentials of roots of the same plant in both wet and dry soil under three treatments: control (C), 24 h light + supplemental water (LW) and 24 h light only (L). Similar to the field results, roots in the dry side of split pots had similar survivorship as roots in the wet side of the split pots (P = 0.136) in the C treatment. In contrast, reduced root survivorship was directly associated with plants in which hydraulic redistribution was experimentally reduced by 24 h light. Dry-side roots of plants in the LW treatment lived half as long as the roots in the wet soil despite being provided with supplemental water (P < 0.0004). Additionally, pre-dawn water potentials of roots in dry soil under 24 h of illumination (L and LW) exhibited values nearly twice as negative as those of C plants (P = 0.034). Estimates of root membrane integrity using electrolyte leakage were consistent with patterns of root survivorship. Plants in which nocturnal hydraulic redistribution was reduced exhibited more than twice the amount of electrolyte leakage in dry roots compared to those in wet soil of the same plant. Our study demonstrates that besides a number of ecological advantages to protecting tissues against desiccation, internal hydraulic redistribution of water is a mechanism consistent with extended root survivorship in dry soils.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-186
Number of pages10
JournalPlant, Cell and Environment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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