The relative ozone resistance of 20 European and two American populations of Plant ago major was examined, and relationships with climatic factors at the source of the plant material were explored using data provided by participants in the ICP-Crops initiative (International Co-operative Programme to Investigate the Effects of Air Pollutants and Other Stresses on Agricultural and Semi-Natural Vegetation). Plants grown from seed were exposed to either charcoal/Purafil® filtered air (CF < 5 nmol mol−1 O3) or CF + ozone (70 nmol mol−1 O3 7 h d−1) over a 2-wk period in controlled environment chambers, and effects on mean plant relative growth rate (R) and allometric root/shoot growth (K) determined. Ozone resistance (R%) was calculated from (R03/RCF) × 100.
Populations exhibited contrasting sensitivities to ozone, without the development of typical visible symptoms of injury. A positive relationship was found between relative ozone resistance and descriptors of the ozone-climate at the site of seed collection for the year of, and the 2 yr before, seed collection. The best predictors of inherent ozone resistance were shown to be cumulative ozone exposure indices calculated according to current United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE) critical level guidelines for the pollutant (i.e. the accumulated hourly average ozone exposure over a threshold level of 40 nmol mol−1 (AOT40) or 30 nmol mol−1 (AOT30) calculated during daylight hours for the consecutive 3-month period of the year experiencing the highest ozone concentrations). No relationships were found between ozone resistance and climatic factors (temperature, precipitation, sunshine hours, humidity) or the concentrations of other air pollutants (SO2, NO2, NO).
These findings support the view that current ambient levels of ozone in many regions of Europe are high enough to promote evolution of resistance to the pollutant in native plant populations. The significance of these findings to the debate over the establishment of separate critical levels for the protection of natural and semi-natural vegetation is discussed.