Roots have been described as having larger vessels and so greater hydraulic efficiency than the stem. Differences in the strength and stiffness of the tissue within the root system itself are thought to be an adaptation to the loading conditions experienced by the roots and to be related to differences in density. It is not known how potential mechanical adaptations may affect the hydraulic properties of the roots. The change in strength, stiffness, conductivity, density, sapwood area, and second moment of area distally along the lateral roots of two tropical tree species in which the strain is known to decrease rapidly was studied and the values were compared with those of the trunk. It was found that as the strain fell distally along the roots, so did the strength and stiffness of the tissue, whereas the conductivity increased exponentially. These changes appeared to be related to differences in density. In contrast to the distal-most roots, the tissue of the proximal roots had a lower conductivity and higher strength than that of the trunk. This suggests that mechanical requirements on the structure rather than the water potential gradient from roots to branches are responsible for the general pattern that roots have larger vessels than the stem. In spite of their increased transectional area, the buttressed proximal roots were subjected to higher levels of stress and had a lower total conductivity than the rest of the root system. © 2007 The Author(s).
- Buttress roots
- Hydraulic conductivity
- Hydraulic-mechanical trade-offs
- Modulus of elasticity
- Tropical trees