Fitness of beech seedlings growing in Finland

We tested how European beech seedlings from across Europe respond to manipulations of light and watering conditions during the growing season in Finland. Our recent paper in Trees: Structure & Function reports on differences among populations receiving combinations of drought, and sun or shade conditions, including gas exchange, water relations, and UV-abs compounds in the leaf epidermis.

Beech seedlings under drought (front) & well watered (back) treatments.

Wang F, Israel D, Ramírez-Valiente J-A, Sánchez-Gómez D, Aranda I, Aphalo PJ, Robson TM. (2021) Seedlings from marginal and core populations of European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) respond differently to imposed drought and shade. Trees Structure and Function, 35, 53-67.


2020 update assessment of ozone depletion, UV radiation and climate change

The UNEP EEAP 2020 Update has just been published in Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences. This year the assessment includes a sectionsupplement on the implications of these environmental effects for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meltwater accumulating on Eagle Island, Antarctica

We also make seven points related to Terrestrial Ecosystems:

  1. Changes in UV radiation and climate have the potential to alter habitat suitability for plant species in terrestrial ecosystems.
  2. Species native to Antarctic are adapted to live under the extreme conditions, but continued changes in UV radiation and climate in this environment could exceed the limits of tolerances and survival of many native species of animal and plants.
  3. Stratospheric ozone depletion affects the Antarctic climate with direct consequences for the environment of terrestrial Antarctic ecosystems.
  4. Plant responses to UV radiation are contingent on other changing environmental conditions, and these effects collectively influence crop quality and production
  5. Acclimation of plants to changes in UV radiation may depend on the adaptation of species to grow in more open or shaded environments and could lead to shifts in functional diversity as vegetative cover changes with climate change and land use.
  6. The sensitivity of pollen to UV radiation and its preservation in the fossil record make it attractive for use in reconstructing UV radiation from the geological past.
  7. Technological advances are allowing for the use of UV radiation to improve agricultural sustainability.

To find out more the open-access publication: Neale, et al. (2021) Environmental effects of stratospheric ozone depletion, UV radiation, and interactions with climate: UNEP Environmental Effects Assessment Panel, Update 2020. Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences,

Photodegradation contributes to forest leaf litter decomposition

Qing-Wei Wang and Marta Pieriste inspecting leaf-litter decomposition filters in the understorey site of a Japanese beech forest

The contribution of photodegradation to litter decomposition in a temperate forest gap and understorey

In a study recently published in New Phytologist with our collaborator Qing-Wei Wang, we found that the spectral composition of light in a forest gap and understorey through the year affected the rate of photodegradation of senescent leaf litter material across a variety of native plant species. This finding that photodegradation plays an important role in forest litter decomposition has potentially far-reaching consequences, and could partially explain the hole in the carbon budget in this ecosystem.

Wang QW, Pieristè M, Kenta T, Liu C, Robson TM, Kurokawa H (2020) Photodegradation enhances litter decomposition modulated with canopy openness in a temperate forest. New Phytologist. NPH17022

Enhanced decomposition can occur through direct photochemical mineralisation, but in temperate forests effects of increased temperature and the availability of substrates for microbial decompositions can be even more important. These actions of photofacilitation are highly wavelength dependent and the subtilties of these responses can only be identified through very large scale experimental manipulations of sunlight, as was done in this ambitious experiment.

Light after Death: Marta Pieristè’s PhD defence

Marta Pieristè successfully defended her PhD dissertation, “Light after Death: the importance of spectral composition in litter decomposition processes” on Tuesday 16th June 2020 at 10:30 a.m. EET Finland.  You can relive the PhD defence using the following video linkMarta Pieristè PhD defence

In addition to the Thesis Summary, the dissertation is composed of three published papers and one manuscript below:

  • Pieristè Neimane et al. (2020) Ultraviolet radiation accelerates photodegradation under controlled conditions but slows the decomposition of leaf litter from forest stands in southern Finland. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry. PLAPHY5920 146, 42–54.
  • Pieristè et al., (2019) Solar UV-A radiation and blue light enhance tree leaf litter decomposition in a temperate forest by accelerating photodegradation rate. Oecologia, 191(1), 191-203.
  • Pieristè et al., (2020) Sunlight affects the microbial functional structure of beech leaf litter. Plant & Soil,
  • Pieristè et al., (manuscript – embargoed) The crucial role of blue light as a driver of photodegradation in terrestrial ecosystems on the global scale: a meta-analysis.
Litter-boxes in the beech forest during the decomposition experiment in Rouen.

As a joint PhD between Normandie Universite Rouen and the University of Helsinki, Marta’s Examination was be conducted by:

Opponents: Prof Laura Llorens Guasch, University of Girona (Spain) and Dr Stephan Hättenschwiler, CNRS Montpelier (France).

Pre-examiners:  Prof Christiane Gallet, University Savoie (France) and Dr Tarja Lehto, University of Eastern Finland (Finland).

Custos : Prof Kurt Fagerstedt, University of Helsinki (Finland).

President: Prof Matty Berg, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (The Netherlands).

To meet the requirements of the co-tutelle PhD, the defence commenced with a 50 minute presentation – followed by 20-30 minutes of questioning by each examiner in turn.

UNEP EEAP 2019 Update published

The 2019 Update on the 2018 Quadrennial Assessment by the UNEP Environmental Effects Panel assessing how climate change, ozone and UV-B radiation interact is now published in Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences.

Bernhard et al., (2020), Environmental effects of stratospheric ozone depletion, UV radiation and interactions with climate change: UNEP Environmental Effects Assessment Panel, update 2019. Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences DOI: 10.1039/d0pp90011g

The Panel met in Alexandria on the South Island of New Zealand in September-October 2019 to consider the latest research into these effects on climate, human health, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem, materials, pollution, and biogeochemical cycling; as well as cross-cutting factors affecting all of these global concerns.

This year 2020, we will reconvene in September to consider what has been a very unusual year for ozone depletion and climate interactions in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

Sunset over Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia (Photo: Scott Byrne).

Craig Brelsford PhD Defence: Light quality affects leaf pigments and leaf phenology

Craig Brelsford from the CanSEE group at the University of Helsinki will defend his PhD dissertation entitled, “Light quality affects leaf pigments and leaf phenology”, on Thursday June 4th,  2020 at 12 noon EET in Finland (11 a.m. CET in the rest of continental Europe).

The defence is open to the public so you can watch the defence remotely with this link:

Or join the defence remotely with the following link:

And ask questions with this link:

Or in person, subject to some social distancing restrictions at: Porthania, Room P673.

Craig’s Opponent will be Professor Gareth K Phoenix from the University of Sheffield. Gareth is an ecophysiologist and expert on the response of plants and vegetation to climate change at high latitudes.  He will give a seminar on Wednesday 3rd June 2020 at 14:00, entitled:  Arctic Browning: extreme events causing large scale damage to arctic vegetation.
You can participate in the seminar of 3rd June using the following link:

Treharne et al., (2019) Arctic browning: Impacts of extreme climatic events on heathland ecosystem CO2 fluxes. Global Change Biology,

How does tree phenology respond to a warmer climate?

In the latest paper published in Agricultural and Forest Meteorology together with our collaborators from Bordeaux we consider the effect of warming on the phenology of European beech.

September, October, November relationships with Leaf senescence
The interactive relationship between leaf senescence and the mean temperature in September, October and November (Tm SON) for (a) the trial and (b) for the provenance.

Using ΔTrait Species Distribution Modelling of a large dataset from provenance trials, we established that not only earlier spring phenology but also delayed leaf senescence in northern populations allowed them to exploit warmer summer temperatures.

Beech is one of those forest trees that utilises a combination of temperature and day-length cues to prompt advancement of its annual growth cycle, meaning the climate warming and associated northerly range shifts have potentially complex outcomes for its phenology.

You can read the full paper open-access for 50 days: Greater capacity to exploit warming temperatures in northern populations of European beech is partly driven by delayed leaf senescence

Homero Gárate-Escamilla, Craig C. Brelsford, Arndt Hampe, T. Matthew Robson, Marta Benito Garzón, (2020) Greater capacity to exploit warming temperatures in northern populations of European beech is partly driven by delayed leaf senescence, Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, Volume 284,

UNEP EEAP panel preparing 2020 update

UNEP have put together a video explaining the work of the UNEP panels that assess ozone depletion, UV-B radiation and their interaction with climate change.

The UNEP Environmental Effects Assessment Panel in New Zealand

In late September, the UNEP Environmental Effects Assessment Panel met in Alexandra, New Zealand, home of Richard McKenzie, for our annual assessment of new research into the environmental effects of ozone depletion, UV radiation, and their implications with respect to climate change.

This year Janet Bornman, Paul Barnes, Carlos Ballaré, Sharon Robinson and myself were particularly tasked with understanding how plant-level effects on biodiversity and key ecological processes scale-up to the ecosystem level.  We also focussed on crosscutting themes affecting not only terrestrial ecosystems, but mankind and the entire global environment.

A traditional Pōwhiri – Māori welcome – for the UNEP panel.

The capacity for us to address ozone depletion through the successful implementation of the Montreal Protocol, which limited the production of ozone depleting chemicals, can be seen as a flagship example of our capacity to address global environmental problems through concerted international action.  In this respect, one of the panel’s responsibilities in future reports will be to provide quantitative comparisons of how our environment differs today from what it would have looked like without the Montreal Protocol.

The World Avoided – Projection of the UV index in March 2065 with (left) and without (right) the implementation of the Montreal Protocol – from Barnes et al., (2019) Nature Sustainability 2, 569–579

Do UV-radiation and blue light have a role in photodegradation affecting decomposition in Finnish forests over winter

The rate of decomposition of leaf litter on the forest floor controls the thickness of the litter layer and nutrient recycling within the ecosystem. Decomposition is well known to depend on moisture and temperature which hasten both the microbial and non-microbial breakdown of leaves following their autumn senescence.

In this paper, just accepted in Plant Physiology and Biochemistry we test the extent to which light plays a role in the decomposition of autumn leaves. Photodegradation, the process by which sunlight accelerates decomposition, has typically been considered important only in dry environments. However, Santa Neimane and Marta Pieristè found in this experiment that it can also participate in decomposition during winter and spring prior to forest canopy closure.

The paper also considers how photodegradation acts on leaves of silver birch and European beech. Using spectrally selective filters over leaf litter in the understorey of different stands in Viikki arboretum and under controlled conditions, the distinct roles of UV radiation and of blue light, which facilitates microbial colonisation could be identified.

The experiment also exploited natural UV filters found in the epidermis of leaves as a means to see whether screening UV-radiation from the mesophyll when leaves are orientated with their upper-face upwards would affect the rate of photodegradation.

This research formed part of Santa Neimane’s undergraduate thesis on Erasmus exchange in Helsinki. It complements the subsequent long-term study of decomposition in a temperate beech forest published this summer, Pieristè et al. 2019, which considers the dynamics of photodegradation in leaves of tree species spanning a continuum of succession.

Read more in the papers:

Pieristè M, Neimane S, Nybakken L, Solanki T, Jones AG, S, Forey E, Chauvat M, Ņečajeva J, Robson TM. (2020) Ultraviolet radiation accelerates photodegradation under controlled conditions but slows the decomposition of leaf litter from forest stands in southern Finland. Accepted in Plant Physiology and Biochemistry. PLAPHY5920.

Pieristè M, Chauvat M, Kotilainen TK, Jones AG, Aubert M, Robson TM, Forey E. (2019) Solar UV-A radiation and blue light enhance tree leaf litter decomposition in a temperate forest by accelerating photodegradation rate. Oecologia, 191(1), 191-203.

Understanding plants’ readiness to grow beneath the snowpack

A quick start to the growing season for plants emerging from the snowpack can provide them with a fitness dividend in locations where the summer is short.

In our latest paper, Transmission of ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared solar radiation to plants within a seasonal snow pack, just out in a Special Issue of PPS devoted to plant UV responses, we measured how much sunlight plants receive under snow and how the properties of the snowpack affect the irradiance spectrum.

Changes in the spectral composition of light under the snowpack may help plants perceive the onset of spring and physiologically prepare for exposure to the full sunlight and cold temperatures they will experience once they emerge.

This field work involved spending some very cold clear days hiding in deep snowpacks!