Hydraulic conductances of angiosperms versus conifers: Similar transport sufficiency at the whole-plant level

Peter Becker, Melvin T. Tyree, Makoto Tsuda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Citations (Scopus)


Bond's 'slow seedling' hypothesis proposes that, because of slow growth rates caused by an inefficient transport system and low leaf photosynthetic capacity, gymnosperm seedlings are weak competitors with angiosperms in productive habitats. We measured component (shoot, leaf, and root) and whole-plant hydraulic conductances of sapling-sized tropical plants growing on nitrogen-poor white sand in Borneo. After accounting for size effects, there were no significant differences in conductances between evergreen angiosperms (nine species) and conifers (three species). Plant successional status or transpiration rate seemed more important than soil fertility in determining hydraulic conductance - colonizers had significantly higher whole-plant conductance than late-succession species. Contrary to prediction, leaf hydraulic conductance (normalized by projected leaf area) was unrelated to complexity of venation in conifers and angiosperms, but was highly correlated with whole-plant conductance. Analyses of published data showed that leafless branches of temperate deciduous angiosperms had higher leaf-area normalized hydraulic conductivity than conifers, but there was no significant difference in adult, whole-plant conductance between these taxa. Thus, at the branch level, conifers with narrow tracheids have less efficient transport than angiosperms with wider vessels, but variations in other resistance components and hydraulic architecture (e.g., sapwood/leaf area ratio) ultimately equalize the sufficiency of water transport to leaves of conifers and angiosperms. Although failing to support one of the proposed mechanisms, our findings did not refute the 'slow seedling' hypothesis per se.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-452
Number of pages8
JournalTree physiology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1999


  • Gymnosperms
  • Hydraulic conductivity
  • Leaf venation
  • Slow seedling hypothesis
  • Tropical heath forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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