2021 journal article
Hydraulic segmentation does not protect stems from acute water loss during fire
TREE PHYSIOLOGY, 41(10), 1785–1793.
The heat plume associated with fire has been hypothesized to cause sufficient water loss from trees to induce embolism and hydraulic failure. However, it is unclear whether the water transport path remains sufficiently intact during scorching or burning of foliage to sustain high water loss. We measured water uptake by branches of Magnolia grandiflora while exposing them to a range of fire intensities and examined factors influencing continued water uptake after fire. Burning caused a 22-fold mean increase in water uptake, with greatest rates of water loss observed at burn intensities that caused complete consumption of leaves. Such rapid uptake is possible only with steep gradients in water potential, which would likely result in substantial cavitation of xylem and loss of conductivity in intact stems. Water uptake continued after burning was complete and was greatest following burn intensities that killed leaves but did not consume them. This post-fire uptake was mostly driven by rehydration of the remaining tissues, rather than evaporation from the tissues. Our results indicate that the fire plume hypothesis can be expanded to include a wide range of burning conditions experienced by plants. High rates of water loss are sustained during burning, even when leaves are killed or completely consumed.