Non-linear direct effects of acid rain on leaf photosynthetic rate of terrestrial plants

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Anthropogenic emissions of acid precursors have enhanced global occurrence of acid rain, especially in East Asia. Acid rain directly suppresses leaf function by eroding surface waxes and cuticle and leaching base cations from mesophyll cells, while the simultaneous foliar uptake of nitrates in rainwater may directly benefit leaf photosynthesis and plant growth, suggesting a non-linear direct effect of acid rain. By synthesizing data from literature on acid rain exposure experiments, we assessed the direct effects of acid rain on leaf photosynthesis across 49 terrestrial plants in China. Our results show a non-linear direct effect of acid rain on leaf photosynthetic rate, including a neutral to positive effect above pH 5.0 and a negative effect below that pH level. The acid rain sensitivity of leaf photosynthesis showed no significant difference between herbs and woody species below pH 5.0, but the impacts above that pH level were strongly different, resulting in a significant increase in leaf photosynthetic rate of woody species and an insignificant effect on herbs. Our analysis also indicates a positive effect of the molar ratio of nitric versus sulfuric acid in the acid solution on leaf photosynthetic rate. These findings imply that rainwater acidity and the composition of acids both affect the response of leaf photosynthesis and therefore result in a non-linear direct effect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1442-1445
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Issue number2
Early online date2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Acid rain
  • Herbs
  • Non-linear effect
  • Photosynthesis
  • Woody plant

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