Ambient ozone effects on forest trees of the eastern United States: a review

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Abstract

Tropospheric ozone can affect crop yield and has been reported to cause reductions in growth and biomass of forest tree species in laboratory and glasshouse studies. However, linkages between growth and ambient ozone concentrations in the field are not well established for forest trees. Ambient ozone concentrations have been shown to cause foliar injury on a number of tree species throughout much of the eastern USA. Symptom expression is influenced by endogenous and exogenous factors and, therefore, ozone-exposure/tree-response relationships have been difficult to confirm. Clearly defined, cause-effect relationships between visible injury and growth losses due to ozone have not been validated. Generalizations of sensitivity of forest trees to ozone are complicated by tree development stage, microclimate, leaf phenology, compensatory processes, within-species variation and other interacting stresses. In general, decreases in above-ground growth at ambient ozone levels in the eastern USA appear to be in the range of 0–10% per year. However, these conclusions are based on a small number of tree species, with the vast majority of studies involving individual tree seedlings in a non-competitive environment. Comparative studies of small and large trees indicate that seedlings are not suitable surrogates for predicting responses of mature trees to ozone. Process-level modelling is a promising methodology that has been recently utilized to assess ozone effects on a stand to regional scale, indicating that ozone is affecting forest growth in the eastern USA. The extent and magnitude of the response is variable and depends on many edaphic and climatic factors. It is imperative when conducting assessment exercises, however, that forest biologists constantly keep in mind the tremendous variability that exists within natural systems. Scaling of single site/physiological response phenomena from an individual tree to an ecosystem and/or region necessitates further research.

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