Is there potential to apply our knowledge that plant phenolic compounds respond to UV-B radiation to infer past changes in global solar UV-B irradiance? This is the possibility that we explore in a Perspective paper just out in Photobiological & Photochemical Sciences.
Our collaborators from the University of Bergen in Norway and University of Innsbruck intend to test the potential for us to use fossilised pollen grains to do just that. By testing whether the UV-screening phenolics in the pollen of trees growing today tracks their exposure to UV-B radiation they will try to establish a mechanistic link that will allow past UV irradiances to be revealed in cores of fossilised pollen.
In this perspective piece we formulate a model for how this approach might be put into practice.
Assessing differences in spectral irradiance is at the heart of our research group’s work, and yet considering entire spectra at once is not something that is straight-forward to do. Traditionally, most research has broken-down spectra into their component regions in order to compare one light environment with another, but looking at the whole spectrum has the potential to yield much more detailed information.
Our open-access paper just out in Ecology & Evolution considers ways to quantitatively assess differences between entire solar spectrum. This approach is illustrated by tracking changes in the forest canopy through the spring and amongst stands dominated by different tree species.
The method we used, called thick pen transform, involves redrawing our spectra of interest with increasingly thick lines and then comparing their similarity. This allows the coarse and fine features of spectra to be compared, and a “Thick Pen Measure of Association” to be calculated to quantify their similarity, as illustrated above.
Using this technique, we were able to trace differences in the spectral irradiance at ground level between forest stands of birch, oak, and spruce at Lammi Biological Station in central Finland. This is the first time such fine-scale differences in the light environment due to the species, phenology, height and leaf-optical properties of canopies have been distinguished. By better understanding how light environments in forests differ we can start to better explain the factors that control species composition and ecosystem functioning in these environments.
As well as detailing the theory and methodology behind this research, the paper gives a comprehensive protocol of how to maximise the information obtained from hemispherical photos of the forest canopy. These are used to assess leaf area index and the sunlight reaching the floor throughout the year.
Read the full text at Hartikainen SM, Jach A, Grané A, Robson TM. Assessing scale‐wise similarity of curves with a thick pen: As illustrated through comparisons of spectral irradiance. Ecol Evol. 2018;00:1–13. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4496
In Arctic and alpine environments warming temperatures are expected to result in longer growing seasons and to encourage growth, but snow will melt faster and more will fall as rain. This means that the protective winter blanket of snow cover may no longer be present to hide plants from the extremes of cold that periodically occur. Whether plants can overcome this paradox to benefit from the increased sunlight and warmth above the snow, while resisting the greater fluctuations in temperature, will depend on their physiological capacity to cope with the changing conditions.
We focus on the role played by UV-absorbing compounds in protection against high light and low temperature combinations as shoots emerge from under snow in the early spring.
Solanki T. et al., 2018 UV-screening and springtime recovery of photosynthetic capacity in leaves of Vaccinium vitis-idaea above and below the snow packPlant Physiology and Biochemistry. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plaphy.2018.09.003
Complex trade-offs in allocation to growth can determine the success of oak species where their ranges overlap.
This is highlighted by our paper Ramírez-Valiente et al., (2018), where higher root investment under seasonal drought by cork oak gave it an advantage over Holm oak, despite our prior expectations that the latter species is more drought tolerant.
José-Alberto Ramírez-Valiente, Ismael Aranda, David Sanchéz-Gómez, Jesús Rodríguez-Calcerrada, Fernando Valladares, T Matthew Robson; Increased root investment can explain the higher survival of seedlings of ‘mesic’ Quercus suber than ‘xeric’ Quercus ilex in sandy soils during a summer drought, Tree Physiology, , tpy084, https://doi.org/10.1093/treephys/tpy084
Following on from the publication of our database on the network of European beech trials in Scientific Dataearlier this month, I spent last week with Marta Benito-Garzon & Santa Neimane in one UK trial testing a new approach to monitoring beechnut production.
The prototypes will be deployed over this autumn and then optimized to register only falling seeds, not leaves or other objects, by validating the beechnut counts against the number of seeds caught in the bags beneath.
Once perfected the electronic monitoring system, designed by Marta Benito-Garzon (INRA Bordeaux) will allow researchers to follow the timing of autumn seed dispersal in real time from the comfort of their offices!
Short wavelengths within the UV-A region of the solar spectrum fall between the known action spectra of the UV-B photoreceptor, UVR8, and the photoreceptors CRYPTOCHROME and PHOTOTROPIN which are predominantly blue light and long-wave UV-A photoreceptors. Our new paper, out in Physiologia Plantarum today questions the roles played by these photoreceptors in response to UV-A and whether radiation in the blue and UV-A regions can help prime plant photoprotection for subsequent high irradiance.
The culmination of more than 10 years of data collection and analysis, a database of beech traits from over half a million trees planted in a common-garden experiment covering the whole of Europe is out today in Scientific Data.
This resource should help researchers better assess the impacts of climate change on species ranges. The most comprehensive dataset of its kind, it promotes beech as a model species on which to test ideas about the relative importance of intra-specific plasticity and genetic variability in helping populations cope with a changing climate.
We’ve just returned from a 10-day field trip to Japan where our collaborators Qingwei Wang and Hiroko Kurakawa are studying the effects of shortwave solar radiation on the growth and subsequent decomposition of leaves from shade tolerant and light demanding plant species in controlled experiments under low and high light conditions.
This visit included a fascinating trip to a beech forest in central Japan to an experiment where the rate of leaf litter decomposition is being compared over 1-year on the forest floor and in an open area under filters screening out various parts of the solar spectrum, in an attempt to estimate the role that photodegradation plays in the decomposition from leaves of different functional types of forest plant in open and shaded environments.
A complimentary experiment at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in Tsukuba City is testing how these species grow under waveband-selective filters, and whether generalisations between plant life forms can be made about the role of these different wavebands in growth and physiology as well as decomposition.
We recently traveled to Austria to help set-up our collaborators’ experiments monitoring the effects of UV-B radiation exposure on Pinus cembra pollen in the mountains above Innsbruck. If we can understand how exposure to UV radiation affects the accumulation of UV-absorbing compounds in pollen today, we may be able to calibrate the concentrations of these compounds found in ice- and sediment cores used in climatic reconstructions. This information potentially will allow palyontologists to understand how UV radiation changed over geological time and what the implications of these changes might have been for the Earth’s ecosystems. By better understanding past climate we will be better prepared to forecast how modern-day changes in UV radiation might affect the Earth’s ecosystems.
Here we take parallel measurements with broadband UV-B sensors and a spectroradiometer next to a specimen pine tree during the period before flowering.