#06 2020

My first conference presentation as an upcoming plant hydraulic scientist

By Shonese Bloy, MSc student, University of Cape Town and SAEON

Fynbos Forum 2020 held in August, was the first conference that I attended and where I presented my work.

As with many plans for 2020, this was not where I expected to be presenting. Earlier in the year I was quite excited to attend the MEDECOS (Mediterranean Ecosystems) Conference 2020, but due to the pandemic and the national lockdown, the MEDECOS Conference was postponed to next year.

I was disappointed to hear this news because I had been excited to network and present my work as an upcoming plant hydraulic scientist. Thankfully, the Fynbos Forum decided to host a virtual conference and I seized the opportunity to attend. Of course, there was still the disappointment of having my first conference be a virtual one because I believed that I would miss out on certain interactions of an in-person conference.

However, I embraced my chance and at this virtual conference I had the pleasure of presenting my work. As it was virtual, the presentations were pre-recorded, and these pre-recorded presentations were then played back on the day we were meant to ‘present’ our work. Talk available here.

Take it from me, you end up feeling as nervous as you would if you had presented in person! We had to watch ourselves present along with the virtual audience. But aside from the nerves, I had great fun attending the conference.

It was interesting to see what other people are up to in the biological field and there were some opportunities to interact virtually. Unfortunately, a major drawback for me was that despite the opportunities to network with other researchers, my slow processing laptop meant that I could not fully engage many of these events. So, I still look forward to my first in-person conference!

Research findings

I am completing my MSc this year and my study is focused on plant hydraulics in relation to fire. At Fynbos Forum 2020 I presented my findings for my first data chapter. In this chapter I wanted to test whether hydraulic segmentation will aid in post-fire survival.

I performed experiments on two tree species from the extremes of the fire strategies. I found that the fire-resistant species, Eucalyptus cladocalyx, exhibits hydraulic segmentation post heat-plume, limiting cavitation to the distal parts of the branch.

The opposite was seen for the fire-sensitive species, Kiggelaria africana – cavitation occurred throughout the branch post heat-plume. West et al. (2016) found that an induced heat plume results in cavitation. I hypothesised that the cavitation would be localised to the distal parts of the branch as a way to preserve the water column. My results showed that cavitation is localised to the distal parts of the branch. This part may then die and be shed off, as water transport can no longer take place in this region. This distal part of the branch may act as a hydraulic fuse.

Hydraulic segmentation may therefore be key to trees’ survival as it may assist in their recovery.

Further reading

West, A.G., Nel, J.A., Bond, W.J. & Midgley, J.J. 2016. Experimental evidence for heat plume-induced cavitation and xylem deformation as a mechanism of rapid post-fire tree mortality. New Phytologist. 211(3):828–838. DOI: 10.1111/nph.13979.

Upcoming plant hydraulic scientist Shonese Bloy performing experiments

Fire-sensitive species Kiggelaria africana

Hydraulic segmentation allows the Eucalyptus cladocalyx tree to localise the damage to the distal parts of the tree and preserve the water column in the proximal region