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MK Bader and S Leuzinger
Abstract
Trees are commonly regarded as distinct entities, but the roots of many species fuse to form natural root grafts allowing the exchange of water, carbon, mineral nutrients, and microorganisms between individuals. Exploiting the phenomenon of leafless (photosynthetically inactive) tree remnants being kept alive by conspecifics, we show tight physiological coupling of a living kauri (Agathis australis) stump to conspecific neighbors. The trunk remnant displayed greatly reduced, inverted daily sap flow patterns compared with intact kauri trees. Its stem water potential showed strong diel variation with minima during daytime and maxima at night, coinciding with peak and minimal sap flow rates in neighbors, respectively. Sudden atmospherically driven changes in water relations in adjacent kauri trees were very rapidly and inversely mirrored in the living stump’s water status. Such intimate hydrological coupling suggests a “communal physiology” among (conspecific) trees with far-reaching implications for our understanding of forest functioning, particularly under water shortage.
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