Responses of plants in polar regions to UVB exposure: a meta-analysis


K. K. Newsham, tel. +44 1223 221 400, fax +44 1223 362 616, e-mail:


We report a meta-analysis of data from 34 field studies into the effects of ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation on Arctic and Antarctic bryophytes and angiosperms. The studies measured plant responses to decreases in UVB radiation under screens, natural fluctuations in UVB irradiance or increases in UVB radiation applied from fluorescent UV lamps. Exposure to UVB radiation was found to increase the concentrations of UVB absorbing compounds in leaves or thalli by 7% and 25% (expressed on a mass or area basis, respectively). UVB exposure also reduced aboveground biomass and plant height by 15% and 10%, respectively, and increased DNA damage by 90%. No effects of UVB exposure were found on carotenoid or chlorophyll concentrations, net photosynthesis, Fv/Fm or ΦPSII, belowground or total biomass, leaf mass, leaf area or specific leaf area (SLA). The methodology adopted influenced the concentration of UVB absorbing compounds, with screens and natural fluctuations promoting significant changes in the concentrations of these pigments, but lamps failing to elicit a response. Greater reductions in leaf area and SLA, and greater increases in concentrations of carotenoids, were found in experiments based in Antarctica than in those in the Arctic. Bryophytes typically responded in the same way as angiosperms to UVB exposure. Regression analyses indicated that the percentage difference in UVB dose between treatment and control plots was positively associated with concentrations of UVB absorbing compounds and carotenoids, and negatively so with aboveground biomass and leaf area. We conclude that, despite being dominated by bryophytes, the vegetation of polar regions responds to UVB exposure in a similar way to higher plant-dominated vegetation at lower latitudes. In broad terms, the exposure of plants in these regions to UVB radiation elicits the synthesis of UVB absorbing compounds, reduces aboveground biomass and height, and increases DNA damage.