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Evaluating the effects of nitrogen and sulfur deposition and ozone on tree growth and mortality in California using a spatially comprehensive forest inventory



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Southwest Research Station


Forest Ecology and Management


Although nitrogen deposition and tropospheric ozone have impacted California forests for decades, broad scale studies of these impacts on forest growth and mortality are lacking. Because of the summer-dry climate over most of the state, forest responses to air pollution are expected to differ from more mesic climates. In this study, data from US Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) permanent (remeasured) plots were combined with modelled atmospheric N and S deposition and an ozone exposure index to evaluate tree growth and mortality responses in California. Seven of 18 species exhibited significantly greater carbon increment (CI) in tree boles as N deposition increased, though the magnitude of the effect was quite small in most California forests. However, increases in CI were substantial in the coastal ecosections of central and northern California where precipitation and fog exposure are greatest. Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens (D. Don) Endl.) trees exhibited the strongest CI response to N deposition. Our model results imply a mean CI increase of 4.2 kg ha−1 yr−1 of C per kg ha−1 yr−1 of N deposition statewide versus 13.6 in the Central and Northern California Coast ecosections, where > 50% of the trees are redwood or tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflorus (Hook. & Arn.) Rehd.). Increased carbon sequestration rates in response to N deposition in these California coastal regions were similar to increases reported for Europe and global estimates. Nitrogen and S deposition significantly increased the odds of top damage and trees with crown damage exhibited higher mortality, although the effect was small. Elevated ozone exposure was associated with significantly larger rates of overall tree growth. However, for ozone-sensitive ponderosa pine at moderate ozone levels (ozone index values of ca. 20–30 ppb) and moderately-elevated N deposition (15–25 kg ha−1 hr−1), CI begins to decline, before increasing at higher pollution levels, presumably because of the fertilizing effect of N deposition; although data are limited for these more polluted conditions. Sulfur deposition in California forests was low, ranging from 0.3 to 3.1 kg ha−1 yr−1, but was associated with positive growth response in seven coniferous species. The combined effect of N and S deposition and ozone exposure statewide is a net increase in bole CI. However, aridity reduces the stimulatory growth effect of N deposition, and alters the threshold, capacity and sometimes the direction (e.g., S deposition) of the CI response to deposition, factors that need to be considered in global change models.



Fenn, Mark E.; Preisler, Haiganoush K.; Fried, Jeremy S.; Bytnerowicz, Andrzej; Schilling, Susan L.; Jovan, Sarah; Kuegler, Olaf. 2020. Evaluating the effects of nitrogen and sulfur deposition and ozone on tree growth and mortality in California using a spatially comprehensive forest inventory. Forest Ecology and Management. 465: 118084.


Publication Notes

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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.