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Sulphur dioxide fumigation effects on stomatal density and index of non-resistant plants: Implications for the stomatal palaeo-[CO₂] proxy method

Haworth, Matthew, Elliott-Kingston, Caroline, Gallagher, Angela, Fitzgerald, Annmarie, McElwain, Jennifer C.
Review of palaeobotany and palynology 2012 v.182 pp. 44-54
Agathis australis, Araucaria bidwillii, Ginkgo biloba, carbon cycle, carbon dioxide, climate, conifers, flora, fossils, fumigation, gases, leaves, paleobotany, paleoclimatology, plant response, stomata, sulfur dioxide, toxicity
The inverse relationship between the number of stomata on the surface of a leaf and the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide ([CO₂]) in which it developed permits the use of fossil plants as indicators of palaeo-atmospheric [CO₂] level (palaeo-[CO₂]). This “stomatal method” to reconstruct palaeo-[CO₂] is dependant upon stomatal initiation being determined by [CO₂]. However, global perturbations to the carbon cycle and climate system throughout earth history are not only characterised by fluctuations in the level of atmospheric [CO₂], but also by the release of large volumes of toxic gases such as sulphur dioxide (SO₂) into the atmosphere. Recent studies have raised uncertainties into the efficacy of stomatal palaeo-[CO₂] proxies during episodes of SO₂ fumigation. This study aims to assess the effect of exposure to 0.2ppm SO₂ on the stomatal frequencies of plant species with no evolutionarily acquired resistance to toxic gases in comparison to individuals grown under control conditions and atmospheres of elevated [CO₂]. Fumigation with SO₂ resulted in a general pattern of increased stomatal density (SD) values, but induced variability in the stomatal index (SI) responses of the plant species studied. Ginkgo biloba exhibited an increase in SI, whereas the araucariacean conifers Agathis australis and Araucaria bidwillii displayed reductions in SI that were indistinguishable from values observed under [CO₂] enrichment. These results suggest that the presence of atmospheric SO₂ may reduce the effectiveness of stomatal reconstructions of palaeo-[CO₂] during intervals characterised by the release of large volumes of toxic gases into the atmosphere. However, exposure to SO₂ induced significant increases in the SD/SI ratios of six of the seven species studied. Calculation of the SD/SI ratios of fossil plants may identify any stratigraphic horizons where the stomatal initiation responses of the fossil flora were affected by sudden fumigation with toxic gases, and thus influence palaeo-[CO₂] estimates. Therefore the SD/SI ratios of fossil plants may serve as indicators of the effectiveness of stomatal reconstructions of palaeo-[CO₂].