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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A rate equation model of stomatal responses to vapour pressure deficit and drought

D Eamus1* and ST Shanahan2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Water and Environmental Resource Management, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

2 School of Informatics, Northern Territory University, Darwin NT 0909

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BMC Ecology 2002, 2:8  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-2-8

Published: 1 August 2002



Stomata respond to vapour pressure deficit (D) – when D increases, stomata begin to close. Closure is the result of a decline in guard cell turgor, but the link between D and turgor is poorly understood. We describe a model for stomatal responses to increasing D based upon cellular water relations. The model also incorporates impacts of increasing levels of water stress upon stomatal responses to increasing D.


The model successfully mimics the three phases of stomatal responses to D and also reproduces the impact of increasing plant water deficit upon stomatal responses to increasing D. As water stress developed, stomata regulated transpiration at ever decreasing values of D. Thus, stomatal sensitivity to D increased with increasing water stress. Predictions from the model concerning the impact of changes in cuticular transpiration upon stomatal responses to increasing D are shown to conform to experimental data.

Sensitivity analyses of stomatal responses to various parameters of the model show that leaf thickness, the fraction of leaf volume that is air-space, and the fraction of mesophyll cell wall in contact with air have little impact upon behaviour of the model. In contrast, changes in cuticular conductance and membrane hydraulic conductivity have significant impacts upon model behaviour.


Cuticular transpiration is an important feature of stomatal responses to D and is the cause of the 3 phase response to D. Feed-forward behaviour of stomata does not explain stomatal responses to D as feedback, involving water loss from guard cells, can explain these responses.

Stomatal behaviour; VPD; modelled responses; feedback