Direct effect of acid rain on leaf chlorophyll content of terrestrial plants in China

Enzai Du*, Dan Dong, Xuetong Zeng, Zhengzhong Sun, Xiaofei Jiang, Wim de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Anthropogenic emissions of acid precursors in China have resulted in widespread acid rain since the 1980s. Although efforts have been made to assess the indirect, soil mediated ecological effects of acid rain, a systematic assessment of the direct foliage injury by acid rain across terrestrial plants is lacking. Leaf chlorophyll content is an important indicator of direct foliage damage and strongly related to plant productivity. We synthesized data from published literature on experiments of simulated acid rain, by directly exposing plants to acid solutions with varying pH levels, to assess the direct effect of acid rain on leaf chlorophyll content across 67 terrestrial plants in China. Our results indicate that acid rain substantially reduces leaf chlorophyll content by 6.71% per pH unit across the recorded plant species. The direct reduction of leaf chlorophyll content due to acid rain exposure showed no significant difference across calcicole, ubiquist or calcifuge species, implying that soil acidity preference does not influence the sensitivity to leaf injury by acid rain. On average, the direct effects of acid rain on leaf chlorophyll on trees, shrubs and herbs were comparable. The effects, however varied across functional groups and economic use types. Specifically, leaf chlorophyll content of deciduous species was more sensitive to acid rain in comparison to evergreen species. Moreover, vegetables and fruit trees were more sensitive to acid rain than other economically used plants. Our findings imply a potential production reduction and economic loss due to the direct foliage damage by acid rain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)764-769
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Acid rain
  • Calcicole
  • Calcifuge
  • Chlorophyll
  • Economic use type
  • Functional group

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