Research in our lab at Cal State Fullerton addresses many aspects of the interactions between plants and water and ranges in scope from plant physiology to the role of plants in the global water cycle. The current focus is on plant hydraulics – the structure and function of plant hydraulic systems – and specifically on how plants deal with air bubbles (embolisms) that can form in their water-conducting systems during drought stress or frost. Two aspects of embolism formation that are currently very active areas of research in our lab are mechanisms of embolism repair and the degree and nature of connectivity and redundancy in water-conducting systems, which can affect the movement of air and water within a plant and thereby affect embolism formation and repair.
Other recent research has addressed the depths of plant root systems and their relationship to water availability, especially at the global scale, and competition for water between plants. Much of the current research in our lab is based on a comparative approach and is centered on shrubs, because they occur from the driest to the wettest environments. Our field research is conducted at sites ranging from deserts, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral to savannas and forests in North and South America. The comparative research is done in close collaboration with plant anatomists, which allows us to explore both the function and structure of plant hydraulic systems. Our research has implication for water conservation and irrigation needs of woody plants used for landscaping and as woody fruit and nut crops, and applied research in these areas is providing new directions for our lab.