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The interplay of hydraulic failure and cell vitality explains tree capacity to recover from drought

Abstract Global climatic models predict an increment in the frequency and intensity of drought events, which have important consequences on forest dieback. However, the mechanisms leading to tree mortality under drought conditions and the physiological thresholds for recovery are not totally understood yet. This study aimed to identify what are the key physiological traits that determine the tree capacity to recover from drought. Individuals of a conifer (Pseudotsuga menziesii M.) and an angiosperm (Prunus lusitanica L.) species were exposed to drought and their ability to recover after rehydration monitored. Results showed that the actual thresholds used for recovery from drought based on percentage loss of conductance (PLC) (i.e. 50% for conifers, 88% for angiosperms) do not provide accurate insights about the tree capacity for surviving extreme drought events. On the contrary, differences in stem relative water content (RWCStem) and the level of electrolytes leakage (EL) were directly related to the capacity of the trees to recover from drought. This was the case for the conifer species, P. menziesii, for which higher RWCStem and lower EL values were related to the recovery capacity. Even if results showed a similar trend for the angiosperm P. lusitanica as for the conifers, differences between the two traits were much more subtle and did not allow an accurate differentiation between trees able to recover and those that were not. RWCStem and EL could work as indicators of tree capacity to recover from drought for conifers but more studies are required to confirm this observation for angiosperms.

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