Is increased UV-B a threat to crop photosynthesis and productivity?

Photosynth Res. 1995 Feb;43(2):81-92. doi: 10.1007/BF00042965.


It has been suggested that increases in ground-level UV-B, as a result of stratospheric ozone depletion, may have major deleterious effects on crop photosynthesis and productivity. The direct consequences of such effects have been projected by some as a world-wide decrease in crop yields of 20-25%. Further losses, or unrealized gains, have also been suggested as a result of increased UV-B counteracting the beneficial effects of elevated atmospheric CO2. Deleterious UV-B effects may be largely partitioned between damage to the plant genome and damage to the photosynthetic machinery. Direct damage to DNA is a common result of absorption of high energy UV-B photons. However, most plants possess repair mechanisms adequate to deal with the levels of damage expected from projected increases in ground-level UV-B. In addition, most plants have the ability to increase production of UV-absorbing compounds in their leaves as a result of exposure to UV-B, UV-A and visible radiation. These compounds contribute substantially to reducing UV-B damage in situ. It has also been shown that in some plants, under the proper conditions, almost every facet of the photosynthetic machinery can be damaged directly by very high UV-B exposures. However, electron transport, mediated by Photosystem II (PS II) appears to be the most sensitive part of the system. Various laboratories have reported damage to virtually all parts of the PS II complex from the Mn binding site to the plastoquinone acceptor sites on the opposite surface of the thylakoid membrane. However, a critical review of the literature with emphasis on exposure protocols and characterization of the radiation environment, revealed that most growth chamber and greenhouse experiments and very many field experiments have been conducted at unrealistic or indeterminate UV-B exposure levels, especially with regard to the spectral balance of their normal radiation environment. Thus, these experiments have led directly to large overestimates of the potential for damage to crop photosynthesis and yield within the context of 100 year projections for stratospheric ozone depletion. Indeed, given the massive UV-B exposures necessary to produce many of these effects, we suggest it is unlikely that they would occur in a natural setting and urge reconsideration of the purported impacts of projected increases of UV-B on crop productivity.