Marschner Review

Plant and Soil

, Volume 380, Issue 1, pp 1-45

First online:

Impacts of acid deposition, ozone exposure and weather conditions on forest ecosystems in Europe: an overview

  • W. de VriesAffiliated withAlterra, Wageningen University and Research CentreEnvironmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen University Email author 
  • , M. H. DobbertinAffiliated withSwiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL
  • , S. SolbergAffiliated withNorwegian Forest and Landscape Institute
  • , H. F. van DobbenAffiliated withAlterra, Wageningen University and Research Centre
  • , M. SchaubAffiliated withSwiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL



In 1994, a “Pan-European Programme for Intensive and Continuous Monitoring of Forest Ecosystems” started to contribute to a better understanding of the impact of air pollution, climate change and natural stress factors on forest ecosystems. The programme today counts approximately 760 permanent observation plots including near 500 plots with data on both air quality and forest ecosystem impacts.


This paper first presents impacts of air pollution and climate on forests ecosystems as reported in the literature on the basis of laboratory and field research. Next, results from monitoring studies, both at a European wide scale and related national studies, are presented in terms of trends and geographic variations in nitrogen and sulphur deposition and ozone concentrations and the impacts of those changes in interaction with weather conditions on (i) water and element budgets and nutrient-acidity status, (ii) forest crown condition, (iii) forest growth and carbon sequestration and (iv) species diversity of the ground vegetation. The empirical, field based forest responses to the various drivers are evaluated in view of available knowledge.


Analyses of large scale monitoring data sets show significant effects of atmospheric deposition on nutrient-acidity status in terms of elevated nitrogen and sulphur or sulphate concentrations in forest foliage and soil solution and related soil acidification in terms of elevated aluminium and/or base cation leaching from the forest ecosystem. Relationships of air pollution with crown condition, however, appear to be weak and limited in time and space, while climatic factors appear to be more important drivers. Regarding forest growth, monitoring results indicate a clear fertilization effect of N deposition on European forests but the field evidence for impacts of ambient ozone exposure on tree growth is less clear.


Nitrogen deposition Climate change Ozone exposure Monitoring Element budgets Forest condition Forest growth Ground vegetation