Air pollution damaging nearly three-quarters of plants, study suggests

Nitrogen and sulfur that ends up in the soil following industrial agriculture and fossil fuel burning can be detrimental to plant species, a study has suggested.

The study, published in Nature, revealed that 70% of the 348 species of plants measured were negatively impacted by either nitrogen or sulfur in the soil.

16 researchers from Arizona State University went through a database of over 14,000 species to determine how plants are affected by the soil and found a wide range of effects.

Through the research, they recognised that native plants tend to decline in areas with high nitrogen or high sulfur deposition while invasive or introduced plants often did better.

Researchers believe the results could demonstrate that many plants species may be at risk due to atmospheric deposition globally.

The project was funded by the United States Geological Survey, which established the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis to fund working groups that can solve environmental problems from existing data.

‘The most significant thing for me was we realized how differently individual plant species respond to air pollution,’ said associate Professor Heather Throop.

‘We’ve known plants are extremely sensitive to nitrogen and sulfur, but this gives us an idea in a lot of species what we can expect in those responses.

‘This can help us understand how factors like air pollution and invasive species that are successful in an area may be coupled,

‘As we learn more about the amount of deposition species of concern can tolerate, that can help inform management decisions in areas that seem to be more highly impacted.’

The scientists will now undertake further work to understand tolerable levels of air pollution to different plant species.

Photo Credit – Pixabay


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