Humidity gradients in the air spaces of leaves
Wong S. C., Canny M. J., Holloway-Phillips M., Stuart-Williams H., Cernusak L. A., Márquez D. A., Farquhar G. D. (2022)
Suan Chin Wong, Martin J. Canny, Meisha Holloway-Phillips, Hilary Stuart-Williams, Lucas A. Cernusak, Diego A. Márquez, Graham D. Farquhar,
Nature Plants 8: 971–978 – https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-022-01202-1 –
Stomata are orifices that connect the drier atmosphere with the interconnected network of more humid air spaces that surround the cells within a leaf. Accurate values of the humidities inside the substomatal cavity, wi, and in the air, wa, are needed to estimate stomatal conductance and the CO2 concentration in the internal air spaces of leaves. Both are vital factors in the understanding of plant physiology and climate, ecological and crop systems. However, there is no easy way to measure wi directly. Out of necessity, wi has been taken as the saturation water vapour concentration at leaf temperature, wsat, and applied to the whole leaf intercellular air spaces. We explored the occurrence of unsaturation by examining gas exchange of leaves exposed to various magnitudes of wsat − wa, or Δw, using a double-sided, clamp-on chamber, and estimated degrees of unsaturation from the gradient of CO2 across the leaf that was required to sustain the rate of CO2 assimilation through the upper surface. The relative humidity in the substomatal cavities dropped to about 97% under mild Δw and as dry as around 80% when Δw was large. Measurements of the diffusion of noble gases across the leaf indicated that there were still regions of near 100% humidity distal from the stomatal pores. We suggest that as Δw increases, the saturation edge retreats into the intercellular air spaces, accompanied by the progressive closure of mesophyll aquaporins to maintain the cytosolic water potential.