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Does the increase in ambient CO2 concentration elevate allergy risks posed by oak pollen?

Abstract

Oak pollen is a major respiratory allergen in Korea, and the distribution of oak trees is expected to increase by ecological succession and climate change. One of the drivers of climate change is increasing CO2, which is also known to amplify the allergy risk of weed pollen by inducing elevated allergenic protein content. However, the impact of CO2 concentration on tree pollen is not clearly understood due to the experimental difficulties in carrying out extended CO2 treatment. To study the response of pollen production of sawtooth oak trees (Quercus acutissima) to elevated levels of ambient CO2, three open-top chambers at the National Institute of Forest Science in Suwon, Korea were utilized with daytime (8 am–6 pm) CO2 concentrations of ambient (× 1.0, ~ 400 ppm), × 1.4 (~ 560 ppm), and × 1.8 (~ 720 ppm) treatments. Each chamber had three sawtooth oak trees planted in September 2009. One or two trees per chamber matured to bloom in 2016. Five to six catkins were selected per tree and polyethylene bags were attached to collect pollen grains. The total number of catkins per tree was counted and the number and weight of pollen grains per catkin were measured. Oak allergen—Que a 1 (Allergon Co., Uppsala, Sweden)—was extracted and purified to make an ELISA kit by which the antigen levels in the pollen samples were quantified. Total pollen counts per tree of the × 1.4 and × 1.8 treatments showed significant increase of 353 and 1299%, respectively, from the × 1.0 treatment (p < 0.001). Allergenic protein contents at the × 1.4 and × 1.8 treatments also showed significant increase of 12 and 11%, respectively (p = 0.011). The × 1.8 treatment induced significant difference from the × 1.0 treatment in terms of pollen production and allergenic protein content, whereas the × 1.4 treatment showed mixed significance. In summary, the oak trees under the elevated CO2 levels, which are expected in the changing climate, produced significantly higher amount of pollen and allergenic protein than under the present air conditions.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the anonymous reviewers, who gave valuable comments for the improvement of the manuscript.

Funding

This research was supported by the “Research and Development for KMA Weather, Climate, and Earth system Services” of the National Institute of Meteorological Sciences (NIMS) of the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA).

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Correspondence to Kyu Rang Kim.

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Kim, K.R., Oh, JW., Woo, SY. et al. Does the increase in ambient CO2 concentration elevate allergy risks posed by oak pollen?. Int J Biometeorol 62, 1587–1594 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-018-1558-7

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Keywords

  • Open-top chamber
  • CO2 enrichment
  • Allergenicity
  • Que a 1
  • Pollen production
  • Oak pollen