Study: Ecosystems under drought stress release more VOCs

Sept. 22, 2022
Researchers monitored an artificial rainforest in the University of Arizona, finding that many plants released more volatile organic compounds during periods of mild to severe drought.

A new study from the University of Arizona explores how forests under drought stress release more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) later in the day during drought conditions.

As reported by Rosemary Brandt in University of Arizona News, the new paper published in Naturemonitored the university’s artificial rainforest to understand its reaction to mild and severe drought.

"There's no other place in the world where you can encapsulate a rainforest, subject it to a drought, and then bring it out of that drought on a schedule that you dictate," John Adams, deputy director and chief of operations for the artificial rainforest, told University of Arizona News. "This gives scientists a really unique opportunity to have everything well-poised so they can monitor and collect data that oftentimes is very difficult or impossible to get in the field."

The researchers found that many of the plants released more VOCs — including monterpenes, pinene, camphene, limonene, terpinene, and isoprene — when experiencing drought stress. They also released these VOCs later in the day.

The pattern of VOC release during drought may make it easier to detect drought stress in ecosystems. It also expands researchers’ understanding of the ways that VOCs are used in communication and self-preservation.

"There are many different types of volatile organic compounds that plants release into the atmosphere," LauraMeredith, an assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, told University of Arizona News. "If we can pinpoint their unique signatures and the biological processes behind them, we could fly an aircraft over the Amazon rainforest, for instance, and essentially measure and sniff out what's happening on the ground."

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About the Author

Jeremy Wolfe

Jeremy Wolfe is an Editor for WaterWorld magazine. Email him at [email protected].