Plant and Soil

, 315:315 | Cite as

Using branch and basal trunk sap flow measurements to estimate whole-plant water capacitance: comment on Burgess and Dawson (2008)

  • Nathan G. Phillips
  • Fabian G. Scholz
  • Sandra J. Bucci
  • Guillermo Goldstein
  • Frederick C. Meinzer


Sap flow sensors are uniquely able to continuously monitor whole tree physiology. Recently, Burgess and Dawson (Burgess SSO, Dawson TE, Plant Soil 305:5–13, 2008) urged caution in using sap flow probes to estimate water storage use in trees. Here we respond to three criticisms raised there: (1) Sampling: that tree water storage, estimated from branch-bole sap flow lags, was compromised by unaccounted variation in branch position and orientation; (2) Instrumentation: that sap flow sensor response times may be sensor artefacts rather than manifestations of tree water storage; and (3) Theory: that tree water storage estimates are based on a faulty concept of lag phenomena in sap flow that persists in the literature. We agree with the need for caution in sap flow-based estimates of plant water storage, but here correct flaws in arguments and representations of studies presented in Burgess and Dawson (Burgess SSO, Dawson TE, Plant Soil 305:5–13, 2008).


Branch sap flow Capacitance Cohesion-tension theory Flow lags Heat balance gauge Heat pulse Heat storage Stem water storage Thermal dissipation probe Water transport 



We thank David Tissue and Thomas Hinckley for suggestions that improved the clarity of this manuscript, and review comments of Stephen Burgess and three other anonymous reviewers. This manuscript was prepared during a sabbatical visit by NP to the University of Western Sydney, supported by International Research Initiatives Scheme Grant number 71827, and a U.S. National Science Foundation grant (No. 0517521).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathan G. Phillips
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fabian G. Scholz
    • 3
  • Sandra J. Bucci
    • 3
  • Guillermo Goldstein
    • 4
    • 5
  • Frederick C. Meinzer
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Geography and EnvironmentBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Plant and Food ScienceUniversity of Western SydneyRichmondAustralia
  3. 3.Comision Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas (CONICET) and Laboratorio de Ecologia Funcional, Facultad de Ciencias NaturalesUniversidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan BoscoComodoro RivadaviaArgentina
  4. 4.CONICET and Laboratorio de Ecología Funcional, Departamento de Ecología, Genética y Evolución, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y NaturalesUniversidad de Buenos Aires, Ciudad Universitaria, NuñezBuenos AiresArgentina
  5. 5.Department of BiologyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  6. 6.US Department of Agriculture Forest ServiceForestry Sciences LaboratoryCorvallisUSA

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