Phenolic compounds in seedlings of Betula pubescens and B. pendula are affected by enhanced UVB radiation and different nitrogen regimens during early ontogeny


Sarita Keski-Saari, fax +358 13 251 3590, e-mail:


We studied the ability of tree seedlings to respond to two environmental factors, elevated ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation and availability of nitrogen (N), at the beginning of their development. Seeds of two birch species, Betula pubescens Ehrh. (common white birch) and B. pendula Roth (silver birch), were germinated and the seedlings grown in an experimental field in eastern Finland. The experimental design consisted of a constant 50% increase in UVB radiation (including a slight increase in UVA), a UVA control (a slight increase in UVA) and a control. The seedlings were fertilized with three levels of N. The experiment lasted for 2 months; aboveground biomass was measured and the most mature leaf of each seedling was taken for the analyses of phenolics. Growth of the seedlings was not significantly affected by enhanced UVB, but was increased by increasing N. Elevated UVB induced significant changes in phenolic compounds. Quercetin glycosides were accumulated in the leaves of both species in response to UVB; this is considered to be a protective response. However, the direction of the responses of individual phenolics to different N regimens differed. In addition, concentration of soluble condensed tannins was lower at moderate N than that at lower levels of N in both species; on the contrary, in B. pubescens the concentration of insoluble condensed tannins was highest at moderate N. No significant interaction between UV and N was detected, and the responses of the two species were highly similar to UVB, while the responses to N regimens varied slightly more between species.