CO2 and Plant Hydraulics



A synthesis of the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide enrichment on plant hydraulics: implications for whole-plant water use efficiency and resistance to drought

  • This paper is dedicated to the memory of Michele L. Pruyn (1971–2015), friend, and creative scientist.


  • Jean-Christophe Domec,
  • Duncan D. Smith,
  • Kate McCulloh

in Plant, Cell & Environment : DOI: 10.1111/pce.12843


Here we summarize studies on the effects of elevated [CO2] (CO2e) on the structure and function of plant hydraulic architecture, and explore the implications of those changes using a model.

Changes in conduit diameter and hydraulic conductance due to CO2e vary among species. Ring-porous species tend toward an increase in conduit size and consequently conductivity.

The effect in diffuse-porous species is much more limited. In conifers the results are mixed, some species showing minor changes in xylem structure, while other studies found increases in tracheid density and diameter.

Non-woody plants generally exhibited the reverse pattern with narrower conduits and lower hydraulic conductivity under CO2e. Further, changes in drought-resistance traits suggest that non-woody plants were the most affected by CO2e which may permit them to better resist drought-induced embolism under future conditions.

Due to their complexity, acclimation in hydraulic traits in response to CO2e are difficult to interpret when relying solely on measurements. When we examined how the observed tissues-specific trends might alter plant function, our modelling results suggest that these hydraulic changes would lead to reduced conductance and more frequent drought stress in trees that develop under CO2e with a more pronounced effect in isohydric than in anisohydric species.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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