Field measurements of xylem cavitation: Are acoustic emissions useful?

G. E. Jackson*, J. Grace

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Cavitation of water columns within the xylem is deleterious for plant water relations as it results in embolism, so reducing hydraulic conductivity. This cavitation can be detected as it is accompanied by the production of acoustic emissions, which can be detected ultrasonically and logged automatically over periods of days. The acoustic emission technique is useful to determine the threshold water potential at which damage to the water-conducting system of the plant is initiated. It can reveal which environmental variables are deleterious to the plant water relations, and which parts of the plant are most sensitive to cavitation. Species comparisons, and comparisons of the same species in different environments can be made, to obtain indications of drought tolerance. However, acoustic emissions have only a limited use in determining the proportion of embolism in a conducting stem, and other methods are needed to find the percentage reduction in hydraulic conductivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1643-1650
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number304
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1996


  • drought stress
  • Embolism
  • hydraulic conductivity
  • vulnerability curves

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