Variation in Tracheid Dimensions of Conifer Xylem Reveals Evidence of Adaptation to Environmental Conditions

Jingming Zheng*, Steven Jansen, Hugh Morris, Filip Vandelook

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


Globally distributed extant conifer species must adapt to various environmental conditions, which would be reflected in their xylem structure, especially in the tracheid characteristics of earlywood and latewood. With an anatomical trait dataset of 78 conifer species growing throughout China, an interspecific study within a phylogenetic context was conducted to quantify variance of tracheid dimensions and their response to climatic and soil conditions. There was a significant difference in tracheid diameter between earlywood and latewood while no significant difference was detected in tracheid wall thickness through a phylogenetically paired t-test. Through a phylogenetic principle component analysis, Pinaceae species were found to be strongly divergent in their tracheid structure in contrast to a conservative tracheid structure in species of Cupressaceae, Taxaceae, and Podocarpaceae. Tracheid wall thickness decreased from high to low latitudes in both earlywood and latewood, with tracheid diameter decreasing for latewood only. According to the most parsimonious phylogenetic general least square models, environment and phylogeny together could explain about 21∼56% of tracheid structure variance. Our results provide insights into the effects of climate and soil on the xylem structure of conifer species thus furthering our understanding of the trees’ response to global change.
Original languageEnglish
Article number774241
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Early online date17 Feb 2022
Publication statusFirst published - 17 Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • climate
  • latitude
  • soil
  • tracheid diameter
  • tracheid wall thickness
  • xylem structure


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