Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

Department name when degree awarded

Range Science


Martyn M. Caldwell


Plant acclimation to natural and intensified solar UV-B irradiance was investigated in three species, Oenothera stricta Ledeb., Rumex obtusifolius L., and R . patientia L. The objectives of this study were to determine: (1) the relationship between plant sensitivity and epidermal UV attenuation, (2) the effect of phenotypic changes in the leaf epidermis, resulting from UV-B exposure, on plant sensitivity to UV radiation, and (3) the plasticity of these changes in the epidermis leading to plant acclimation to UVB radiation.

Epidermal UV transmittance was found to differ in magnitude and spectral distribution among the three species examined in this study. Epidermal tissue from the leaves of Oenothera stricta, Rumex obtusifolius, and R. patientiaattenuated up to 951, 90%, and 851 of the UV-B radiation incident on the leaf, respectively. The spectral distribution of transmittance appeared to be characteristic of each species.

The capacity of the epidermis to attenuate UV-B radiation was found to have some degree of plasticity in Oenothera stricta and Rumex obtusifolius. After exposure to UV-B radiation for periods of 11 to 15 days, at a mean dose rate of approximately 2050 biologically effective J·m·-2d-1 , epidermal UV-B transmittance was significantly reduced by up to 36% in mature leaves of O. stricta. Increased capacity of the epidermis to attenuate UV-B radiation was not observed in young leaves of this species. These leaves only transmitted about 4% of the UV-8 radiation incident on the leaf, The transmittance of shorter wavelengths of visible radiation was reduced by 6 to 14% in young and mature leaves after UV-B irradiation. A similar reduction in epidermal UV-8 transmittance in the leaves of R. obtusifolius was also observed.

Ultraviolet absorbance in leaf epidermal and mesophyll tissue of Oenothera stricta generally increased in response to UV-B irradiation. Absorbance increased more in young leaves than mature leaves after UV-B irradiation. This increase in UV absorbance was also found in mature leaves of Rumex obtusifolius and R. patientia after UV-B irradiation. The increase in absorbance was most likely caused by an increase in flavonoid and related phenolic compounds in leaf tissues.

The rate of photosynthesis was used as an indicator of the degree of plant sensitivity to UV-B radiation. In general, photosynthesis was not significantly depressed in the leaves of any of the three species. A trend toward photosynthetic depression in response to UV-B irradiation was found, however, and thus some degree of UV-B sensitivity is suggested in these species. A limited degree of plant acclimation was suggested in plants that were exposed to a low UV-B dose rate prior to a higher dose rate.

A mechanism of UV-B attenuation, possibly involving the biosynthesis of UV-ab sorbing flavonoid compounds in the epidermis and mesophyll under the stress of UV-B radiation, and a subsequent increase in the UV-B attenuation capacity of the epidermis, is suggested. The degree of plant sensitivity and acclimation to natural and intensified solar UV-B radiation may involve a dynamic balance between the capacity for UV-B attenuation and UV-radiation-repair mechanisms in the leaf.