Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Taylor S. Feild

Committee Members

Randall Small, C. Darrin Hulsey


Xylem vessels have long been proposed as a key innovation for the ecological diversification of angiosperms by providing a breakthrough in hydraulic efficiency to support high rates of photosynthesis and growth. However, recent studies demonstrated that angiosperm woods with structurally ‘primitive’ vessels did not have greater whole stem hydraulic capacities as compared to vesselless angiosperms. As an alternative to the hydraulic superiority hypothesis, the heteroxylly hypothesis proposes that subtle hydraulic efficiencies of primitive vessels over tracheids enabled new directions of functional specialization in the wood. However, the functional properties of early heteroxyllous wood remain unknown. We selected the two species of Canellales from Madagascar to test the heteroxylly hypothesis because Canellaceae (represented by Cinnamosma madagascariensis) produces wood with vessels of an ancestral form, while Winteraceae, the sister-clade (represented by Takhtajania perrieri) is vesselless. We found that heteroxylly correlated with increased wood functional diversity related mostly to biomechanical specialization. However, vessels were not associated with greater stem hydraulic efficiency or increased shoot hydraulic capacity. Our results support the heteroxylly hypothesis and highlight the importance integrating a broader ecological context to understand the evolution of vessels.

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