Environmental Control of Isoprene Emission: from Leaf to Canopy Scale
Isoprene is the most abundant volatile organic compound (VOC) emitted from vegetation, mainly trees. Because it plays an important role in tropospheric chemistry leading to formation of pollutants and enhancing the lifetime of the greenhouse gas methane, concern about the response of isoprene emissions to the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration and global climate change has been increasing over the last few years. The consequences of predicted climate change will have complex repercussions on global isoprene emission. The increasing atmospheric CO2 per se will have direct effects on terrestrial vegetation since CO2 is the substrate of photosynthesis. Because photosynthesis is limited by CO2 at current ambient concentrations, an increase in CO2 is expected to increase leaf biomass (i.e. isoprene emitting surface). Predicted warmer climate, extended drought periods, the possible shift in plant species in favour of isoprene emitters and the increase in length of growing season, may cause an increase in global isoprene emissions with profound perturbations of air quality and the global carbon cycle. The aim of this thesis was to investigate the effect of environmental variables such as light, temperature, drought and leaf-to-air vapour pressure deficit (VPD), and the short- and long-term effect of atmospheric [CO2] on isoprene emission from temperate and tropical tree species. Both leaf and whole ecosystem level fluxes were studied. At the leaf scale, a short-term experiment with leaves of potted two-year old trees of Quercus virginiana was carried out, exposing plants to two drying-rewatering cycles. Leaf isoprene emission fell, but the process was considerably less sensitive to water stress than photosynthesis and stomatal conductance. In drought conditions, the large reduction in photosynthesis caused the percentage of fixed carbon lost as isoprene to increase as plants became more stressed, reaching peaks of 50% when photosynthesis was almost zero. Isoprene emissions also showed a strong negative linear relationship with pre-dawn leaf water potential (psi-leaf). In another experiment carried out at the large enclosed facility of Biosphere 2 (B2L, Arizona, USA), studying isoprene emission from leaves of three-year-old plants of Populus deltoides grown at three CO2 atmospheric concentrations (430, 800 and 1200 mu mol mol-1 CO2) in non-stressed conditions, instantaneous increases in atmospheric [CO2] always resulted in a reduction of isoprene emission and a stimulation of photosynthesis. Moreover, in the long-term, the CO2 inhibition effect for isoprene emission became a permanent feature for plants growing under elevated [CO2]. Again, isoprene emission was less responsive to drought than photosynthesis. Both water-stress and high VPD strongly stimulated isoprene emission and depressed photosynthetic rate as a result of stomatal closure and the resulting decreases in intercellular [CO2] (Ci). This also led to a dramatic increase in the proportion of assimilated carbon lost as isoprene. The effect of atmospheric elevated [CO2] and its interaction with high VPD and water stress on ecosystem gross isoprene production (GIP) and net ecosystem exchange of CO2 (NEE) in the Populus deltoides plantations was also studied. Although GIP and NEE showed a similar response to light and temperature, NEE was stimulated by elevated CO2 by 72% and depressed by high VPD, while GIP was inhibited by elevated CO2 by 58% and stimulated by high VPD. Similar to what was observed at leaf level, under water stress conditions GIP was stimulated in the short term and declined only when the stress was severe, whereas NEE started to decrease from the beginning of the experiment. This contrasting response led the percentage of assimilated carbon lost by the ecosystem as isoprene to increase as water stress progressed from 2.5% and 0.6% in well-watered conditions to 60% and 40% for the ambient and the elevated CO2 treatments, respectively. Again, we found water limitation and high VPD off-set the inhibitory effect of elevated CO2, leading to increased isoprene emissions. The effect of a mild water stress on GIP and gross primary production (GPP) was also observed in the model tropical rainforest mesocosm of B2L. Although GPP was reduced by 32% during drought, GIP was not affected and correlated very well with both light and temperature. The percentage of fixed C lost as isoprene tended to increase during drought because of the reduction in GPP. Consumption of isoprene by soil was observed in both systems. The isoprene sink capacity of litter-free soil of the agroforest stands showed no significant response to different CO2 treatments, while isoprene production was strongly depressed by elevated atmospheric [CO2]. In both mesocosms, drought suppressed the sink capacity, but the full sink capacity of dry soil was recovered within a few hours upon rewetting. In summary, elevated CO2 increased biomass production and photosynthesis while depressing isoprene production. However, both drought and VPD may off-set the CO2 effect and lead to enhanced isoprene emission. We conclude that the overall effect of global climate change could be of enhancing global isoprene emissions while depressing the soil sink, and that the soil uptake of atmospheric isoprene is likely to be modest but significant and needs to be taken into account for a comprehensive estimate of the global isoprene budget.