Wood anatomy reveals high theoretical hydraulic conductivity and low resistance to vessel implosion in a Cretaceous fossil forest from northern Mexico

Hugo I. Martínez-Cabrera, Emilio Estrada-Ruiz

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© 2014 Martinez-Cabrera, Estrada-Ruiz. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. The Olmos Formation (upper Campanian), with over 60 angiosperm leaf morphotypes, is Mexico's richest Cretaceous flora. Paleoclimate leaf physiognomy estimates indicate that the Olmos paleoforest grew under wet and warm conditions, similar to those present in modern tropical rainforests. Leaf surface area, tree size and climate reconstructions suggest that this was a highly productive system. Efficient carbon fixation requires hydraulic efficiency to meet the evaporative demands of the photosynthetic surface, but it comes at the expense of increased risk of drought-induced cavitation. Here we tested the hypothesis that the Olmos paleoforest had high hydraulic efficiency, but was prone to cavitation. We characterized the hydraulic properties of the Olmos paleoforest using theoretical conductivity (Ks), vessel composition (S) and vessel fraction (F), and measured drought resistance using vessel implosion resistance (t/b)h2and the water potential at which there is 50% loss of hydraulic conductivity (P50). We found that the Olmos paleoforest had high hydraulic efficiency, similar to that present in several extant tropical-wet or semi-deciduous forest communities. Remarkably, the fossil flora had the lowest (t/b)h2, which, together with low median P50(-1.9 MPa), indicate that the Olmos paleoforest species were extremely vulnerable to drought-induced cavitation. Our findings support paleoclimate inferences from leaf physiognomy and paleoclimatic models suggesting it represented a highly productive wet tropical rainforest. Our results also indicate that the Olmos Formation plants had a large range of water conduction strategies, but more restricted variation in cavitation resistance. These straightforward methods for measuring hydraulic properties, used herein for the first time, can provide useful information on the ecological strategies of paleofloras and on temporal shifts in ecological function of fossil forests chronosequences.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalPLoS ONE
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2014


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