Background: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is uniquely suited to non-invasively and continuously monitor embolism formation in trees. Depending on the MRI method used, quantitative parameter maps of water content and MRI signal relaxation behavior can be generated. The ability to measure dynamic differences in water content and relaxation behavior can be used to detect xylem embolism formation, even if xylem conduits are too small to be spatially resolved. This is especially advantageous when using affordable small-scale low-field MRI scanners. The amount of signal that can be obtained from an object strongly depends on the strength of the magnetic field of the imager’s magnet. Imaging at lower resolutions thus would allow to reduce the cost, size and weight of the MRI scanner and to shorten image acquisition times.
Results: We investigated how much spatial resolution can be sacrificed without losing the ability to monitor embolism formation in coniferous softwood (spruce, Picea abies) and diffuse porous beech (Fagus sylvatica). Saplings of both species were bench dehydrated, while they were continuously imaged at stepwise decreasing spatial resolutions. Imaging was done by means of a small-scale MRI device, utilizing image matrix sizes of 128×128, 64×64 and 32×32 pixels at a constant FOV of 19 and 23 mm, respectively. While images at the lowest resolutions (pixel sizes 0.59×0.59 mm and 0.72×0.72 mm) were no longer sufficient to resolve finer details of the stem anatomy, they did permit an approximate localization of embolism formation and the generation of accurate vulnerability curves.
Conclusions: When using MRI, spatial resolution can be sacrificed without losing the ability to visualize and quantify embolism formation. Imaging at lower spatial resolution to monitor embolism formation has two advantages. Firstly, the acquisition time per image can be reduced dramatically. This enables continuous imaging at high time resolution, which may be beneficial to monitor rapid dynamics of embolism formation. Secondly, if the requirements for spatial resolution are relaxed, much simpler MRI devices can be used. This has the potential to make non-invasive MR imaging of embolism formation much more affordable and more widely available.