Acidic deposition, cation mobilization, and biochemical indicators of stress in healthy red spruce

Walter C. Shortle, Kevin T. Smith, Rakesh Minocha, Gregory B. Lawrence, Mark B. David

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dendrochemical and biochemical markers link stress in apparently healthy red spruce trees (Picea rubens) to acidic deposition. Acidic deposition to spruce forests of the northeastern USA increased sharply during the 1960s. Previous reports related visible damage of trees at high elevations to root and soil processes. In this report, dendrochemical and foliar biochemical markers indicate perturbations in biological processes in healthy red spruce trees across the northeastern USA. Previous research on the dendrochemistry of red spruce stemwood indicated that under uniform environmental conditions, stemwood concentrations of Ca and Mg decreased with increasing radial distance from the pith. For nine forest locations, frequency analysis shows that 28 and 52% of samples of red spruce stemwood formed in the 1960s are enriched in Ca and Mg, respectively, relative to wood formed prior to and after the 1960s. This enrichment in trees throughout the northeastern USA may be interpretable as a signal of increased availability of essential cations in forest soils. Such a temporary increase in the availability of Ca and Mg could be caused by cation mobilization, a consequence of increased acidic deposition. During cation mobilization, essential Ca and Mg as well as potentially harmful Al become more available for interaction with binding sites in the soil and absorbing roots. As conditions which favor cation mobilization continue, Ca and Mg can be leached or displaced from the soil. A measure of the interaction between Ca and Al is the Al/Ca binding ratio (molar charge ratio of exchangeable Al to exchangeable Ca). As the Al/Ca binding ratio in the root zone increased from 0.3 to 1.9, the foliar concentration of the biochemical stress marker putrescine also increased from 45 to 145 nm g-1. The correlation of the putrescine concentration to the Al/Ca binding ratio (adj. r2 = 0.68, P < 0.027) suggests that foliar stress may be linked to soil chemistry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)871-876
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Acidic deposition, cation mobilization, and biochemical indicators of stress in healthy red spruce'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this