, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 81-89
Date: 01 Apr 2011

Changes in atmospheric chemistry and crop health: A review

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Abstract

The concentrations of atmospheric compounds such as greenhouse gases, heavy metals and trace gas air pollutants have rapidly changed. Many of these compounds interact with agricultural systems and influence crop performance, both directly by affecting growth and quality or indirectly by altering the plant’s ability to cope with other abiotic and biotic stresses. Some atmospheric compounds have little or no discernible impact on the environment; others reach levels that exceed thresholds for damage to crops. In this review, we analyse the literature on airborne species that directly impact crop growth and health. In Europe and North America emissions of SO2, NOx and heavy metals have declined during the past decades and are currently not considered as a major threat to crops. By contrast, air pollutant emissions have been increasing in rapidly growing regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Ozone is the most phytotoxic of the common air pollutants. The widespread distribution of O3 already presents a risk to crop growth and health in many regions of the world. It is concluded that the continuous increase in background O3 concentrations will pose a critical threat to future world food security. Interactions with both biotic and abiotic factors must be taken into account in assessing risks of air pollutants in the field. There is evidence that these indirect effects could be more important under certain circumstances than the direct effects of air pollutants on plants. The parallel rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations accompanied by climate change has two major implications: (1) a possible benefit to crop growth by direct stimulation of photosynthesis and by mitigation of gaseous air pollutants and water stress; and (2) a threat to crop production due to an enhancement of crop quality losses.