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Atmospheric pollutants in peri-urban forests of Quercus ilex: evidence of pollution abatement and threats for vegetation


Peri-urban vegetation is generally accepted as a significant remover of atmospheric pollutants, but it could also be threatened by these compounds, with origin in both urban and non-urban areas. To characterize the seasonal and geographical variation of pollutant concentrations and to improve the empirical understanding of the influence of Mediterranean broadleaf evergreen forests on air quality, four forests of Quercus ilex (three peri-urban and one remote) were monitored in different areas in Spain. Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ammonia (NH3), nitric acid (HNO3) and ozone (O3) were measured during 2 years in open areas and inside the forests and aerosols (PM10) were monitored in open areas during 1 year. Ozone was the only air pollutant expected to have direct phytotoxic effects on vegetation according to current thresholds for the protection of vegetation. The concentrations of N compounds were not high enough to directly affect vegetation but could be contributing through atmospheric N deposition to the eutrophization of these ecosystems. Peri-urban forests of Q. ilex showed a significant below-canopy reduction of gaseous concentrations (particularly NH3, with a mean reduction of 29–38 %), which indicated the feasibility of these forests to provide an ecosystem service of air quality improvement. Well-designed monitoring programs are needed to further investigate air quality improvement by peri-urban ecosystems while assessing the threat that air pollution can pose to vegetation.

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This research was funded by the Spanish project EDEN (CGL2009-13188-C03-02), by the project from Autonomous Government of Madrid AGRISOST-CM (P2013/ABI-2717) and by the European Projects ECLAIRE (FP7-ENV-2011/282910) and Life RESPIRA (LIFE13 ENV/ES/000417). This study was also supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment (Resolución 15398, BOE no. 230). The authors would like to acknowledge the Department of Environment (DGQA) of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia for performing the active monitoring of air pollutants at LC (“MSY” station from GAW/ACTRIS monitoring networks) and thank the Government of Navarre for providing valuable data on air quality. We sincerely acknowledge the two anonymous reviewers for a very constructive revision of our work.

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Correspondence to Héctor García-Gómez.

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Responsible editor: Constantini Samara

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García-Gómez, H., Aguillaume, L., Izquieta-Rojano, S. et al. Atmospheric pollutants in peri-urban forests of Quercus ilex: evidence of pollution abatement and threats for vegetation. Environ Sci Pollut Res 23, 6400–6413 (2016).

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  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Nitrogen
  • Ozone
  • Aerosols
  • Ecosystem services
  • Mediterranean vegetation