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The impact of air pollution on terrestrial managed and natural vegetation

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article number 20190317
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/10/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A
Issue number2183
Number of pages18
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date28/09/20
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Although awareness that air pollution can damage vegetation dates back at least to the 1600s, the processes and mechanisms of damage were not rigorously studied until the late twentieth century. In the UK following the Industrial Revolution, urban air quality became very poor, with highly phytotoxic SO2 and NO2 concentrations, and remained that way until the mid-twentieth century. Since then both air quality, and our understanding of pollutants and their impacts, have greatly improved. Air pollutants remain a threat to natural and managed ecosystems. Air pollution imparts impacts through four major threats to vegetation are discussed through in a series of case studies. Gas-phase effects by the primary emissions of SO2 and NO2 are discussed in the context of impacts on lichens in urban areas. The effects of wet and dry deposited acidity from sulfur and nitrogen compounds are considered with a particular focus on forest decline. Ecosystem eutrophication by nitrogen deposition focuses on heathland decline in the Netherlands, and ground-level ozone at phytotoxic concentrations is discussed by considering impacts on semi-natural vegetation. We find that, although air is getting cleaner, there is much room for additional improvement, especially for the effects of eutrophication on managed and natural ecosystems.

This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘Air quality, past present and future’.