A review of the response of epicuticular wax of conifer needles to air pollution

M. Turunen, S. Huttunen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review

146 Citations (Scopus)


The effects of air pollutants on the epicuticular wax structure of conifer needles and the ecophysiological consequences of the injuries are reviewed on the basis of published literature and the authors' recent investigations. Degradation of the epicuticular waxes, which appears as a fusion of wax tubes in the epistomatal chambers and finally results in an amorphous appearance of the waxes, is the most common micromorphological injury type observed in studies on the genera Abies, Larix, Picea, and Pinus. The rate of erosion correlates well with the level of air pollution, but clear evidence for the specificity of the symptoms for different air pollutants has not been observed. It is concluded that the erosion of the epicuticular waxes, a phenomenon with a large geographic distribution, is a relevant factor of the multiple forest decline syndrome. Erosion of the waxes can change needle wettability and rain retention. Increased needle wettability and permeability of the cuticles can result in enhanced leaching of nutrients and uptake of pollutants. Increased or decreased stomatal and cuticular diffusion resistance of the needles leads to altered transpiration rates. Due to the changed chemical microenvironment of the needles, the conifers are predisposed to various biotic and abiotic stresses. Because the epicuticular waxes are one of the first targets of a variety of air pollutants, they can widely be used as an early indicator of air pollution effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-45
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes
MoEC publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


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