Ground-level ozone is a creeping threat to biodiversity

It has been well established that chronic exposure to high levels of ozone poses a serious threat to human health, exacerbates heart and lung problems such as asthma and emphysema, and causes low birth weight. one study It found that more than 1 million premature deaths occur globally each year due to rising ozone levels.

Research also shows that crops and forests are damaged or killed by ozone, either directly or indirectly, because ozone makes it more susceptible to insects, disease and drought. Ozone causes more damage to plants than all other air pollutants combined, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The gas is expected to cause a significant reduction in global food production. modern one study He predicted that by 2050, wheat production would decline by 13 percent, soybeans by 28 percent, and maize by 43 percent due to rising temperatures and ozone.

While it is clear that ozone can negatively affect all living things, research has not, until recently, examined its effects on biodiversity. Scientists believe, however, that the effects are significant. The International Federation of Forest Research Organizations, a global network of scientists, is holding a conference titled Air Pollution Threats to Plant Ecosystems this month. Ozone is at the top of the list.

in a paper Published last year, 20 researchers in Europe and Asia, including Agathakleous, set a model for what could happen to ecosystems in the coming decades as a result of ozone pollution. They concluded that ozone would affect “the composition and diversity of plant communities by affecting key physiological features” and could cause a series of biodiversity-reducing changes. In their paper, the researchers urged officials to take ozone into account in efforts to protect and restore biodiversity, and said its effects should be included in assessments of atmospheric pollution and climate change.

Research shows that ozone affects plants in a variety of ways.

“It paralyzes the stomata of plants, so they release more water than they can take in,” said Howard Neufeld, a plant ecologist at Appalachian State University. Stomata are microscopic openings on the surface of leaves where trees exchange gases with the atmosphere. Ozone damages them and interferes with a variety of processes, including photosynthesis.

Ozone also damages leaves and accelerates leaf aging. “Whenever leaves are injured, photosynthesis decreases; a plant produces less sugars, its resources are fewer,” Neufeld says. “It also affects the movement of sugars to the roots, reducing root growth, making them more susceptible to drought, nutrient deficiencies, and disease.”

Ozone damage can also alter the timing of leaf fall and reduce leaf size, reducing the amount of litter and affecting microbial communities that thrive in decomposing leaves. Microbes in litter and soil are essential for taking in nutrients, helping trees resist disease and using water efficiently.

The effects of ozone on the soil also affect the root zone – the root system, microbes, fungi and other organisms associated with it. “When plants respond to ozone, they use energy,” Agathocleos said. “When they consume a lot of energy, it is less available to soil organisms, and the chemical composition can be affected.” Less nutritious leaves can also affect the life cycle of the animals that feed on them.

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