Metabolite specific effects of solar UV-A and UV-B on alder and birch leaf phenolics


Titta Kotilainen, fax +358 142601021, e-mail:


We measured the concentrations of ultraviolet (UV)-absorbing phenolics varying in response to exclusion of either solar UV-B or both solar UV-A and UV-B radiations in leaves of grey alder (Alnus incana) and white birch (Betula pubescens) trees under field conditions. In alder leaves 20 and in birch leaves 13 different phenolic metabolites were identified. The response to UV exclusion varied between and within groups of phenolics in both tree species. The changes in concentration for some metabolites suggest effects of only UV-A or UV-B, which band being effective depending on the metabolite. For some other metabolites, the results indicate that UV-A and UV-B affect concentrations in the same direction, while for a few compounds there was evidence suggesting opposite effects of UV-A and UV-B radiation. Finally, the concentration of some phenolics did not significantly respond to solar UV. We observed only minor effects on the summed concentration of all determined phenolic metabolites in alder and birch leaves, thus indicating that measuring only total phenolics concentration may not reveal the effects of radiation. Here, we show that the appropriate biological spectral weighting functions for plant-protective responses against solar UV radiation extend in most cases – but not always – into the UV-A region and more importantly that accumulation of different phenolic metabolites follows different action spectra. This demonstrates under field conditions that some of the implicit assumptions of earlier research simulating ozone depletion and studying the effects of UV radiation on plant secondary metabolites need to be reassessed.