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Cells, Vol. 11, Pages 53: Effect of Drought and Heavy Metal Contamination on Growth and Photosynthesis of Silver Birch Trees Growing on Post-Industrial Heaps

Cells doi: 10.3390/cells11010053

Authors:
Krzysztof Sitko
Magdalena Opała-Owczarek
Gabriela Jemioła
Żaneta Gieroń
Michał Szopiński
Piotr Owczarek
Małgorzata Rudnicka
Eugeniusz Małkowski

Silver birch trees (Betula pendula Roth) are a pioneering species in post-industrial habitats, and have been associated with an expansive breeding strategy and low habitat requirements. We conducted ecophysiological and dendroclimatological studies to check whether there are any features of which the modification enables birch trees to colonise extreme habitats successfully. We characterised the efficiency of the photosynthetic apparatus, the gas exchange, the content of pigments in leaves, and the growth (leaf thickness and tree-ring width) of birch trees on a post-coal mine heap, a post-smelter heap, and a reference site. Birch growth was limited mainly by temperature and water availability during summer, and the leaves of the birch growing on post-industrial heaps were significantly thicker than the reference leaves. Moreover, birch trees growing on heaps were characterised by a significantly higher content of flavonols and anthocyanins in leaves and higher non-photochemical quenching. In addition, birches growing on the post-coal mine heap accumulated a concentration of Mn in their leaves, which is highly toxic for most plant species. Increasing the thickness of leaves, and the content of flavonols and anthocyanins, as well as efficient non-photochemical quenching seem to be important features that improve the colonization of extreme habitats by birches.

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