Ann Bot. 2023 Sep 4:mcad131. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcad131. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Whole-plant performance in water-stressed and disturbance-prone environments depends on a suitable supply of water from the roots to the leaves, storage of reserves during periods of shortage, and a morphological arrangement that guarantees the maintenance of the plants anchored to the soil. All these functions are performed by the secondary xylem of roots. Here, we investigate whether different growth forms of Fabaceae species from the seasonally dry Neotropical environment have distinct strategies for water transport, mechanical support, and non-structural carbon and water storage in the root secondary xylem.
METHODS: We evaluated cross-sections of root secondary xylem from trees, shrubs, and subshrubs species. We applied linear models to verify the variability in secondary xylem anatomical traits among growth forms.
KEY RESULTS: Secondary xylem with larger vessels and lower vessel density were observed in tree species. Vessel wall thickness, vessel grouping index, potential hydraulic conductivity, and cell fractions (vessels, fibers, rays, and axial parenchyma) were not statistically different between growth forms, due to high interspecific variation within the groups studied.
CONCLUSION: Our results showed that the variability in anatomical traits of the secondary xylem of the root are species-specific. In summary, the cellular complexity of the secondary xylem ensures multiple functional strategies in species with distinct growth forms, a key trait for resource use in an environment with strong water seasonality.