Atmospheric depositions affect the growth patterns of Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris L.)—a long-term cause-effect monitoring study using biomarkers

  • Horst Schulz
  • Wolfgang Beck
  • Angela LauschEmail author


Recording the causes, effects, and effect mechanisms of vegetation health is crucial to understand process-pattern interactions in ecosystem processes. NOX and SOX in the form of air pollution are both triggers and sources of vegetation health that can have an effect on the local or the global level and whose impacts need to be monitored. In this study, the growth patterns in Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris L.) were studied in the context of changing atmospheric depositions in the lowlands of north-eastern Germany. Under the influence of atmospheric sulfur (S) and nitrogen (N) depositions, pine stands showed temporal variations in their normal growth behavior. In such cases, the patterns of normal growth can be suppressed or accelerated. Pine stands which were influenced by high S deposition up until 1990 changed from suppressed growth to accelerated growth by decreasing S, but increasing N depositions between 1990 and 2003. The cause of these changes in pine growth patterns was imbalances in S and N nutrition, in particular, enrichments of sulfate, non-protein nitrogen or arginine, and finally, also imbalances and deficiencies in phosphorus, glucose, and adenosine triphosphate in the needles. Our long-term monitoring study shows that biochemical markers (traits) are crucial bioindicators for the qualitative and quantitative assessment of tree vitality and growth patterns in Scots pines. Furthermore, we were able to show that NOX and SOX depositions need to be monitored locally to be able to assess the local effects of biomolecular markers on the growth patterns in Scots pine stands.


Atmospheric depositions Growth patterns Biochemical markers Scots pine stands 



The authors thank Sigrid Härtling and Renate Rudloff (Department of Soil Ecology, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research—UFZ) for their excellent technical assistance.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Soil EcologyHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research—UFZHalle (Saale)Germany
  2. 2.Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute, Federal Research Institute for Rural Areas, Forestry and FischeriesInstitute for Forest Ecology InventoryEberswaldeGermany
  3. 3.Department of Computational Landscape EcologyHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research—UFZLeipzigGermany
  4. 4.Department of GeographyHumboldt Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany

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