A New Field Instrument for Leaf Volatiles Reveals an Unexpected Vertical Profile of Isoprenoid Emission Capacities in a Tropical Forest

Tyeen C. Taylor, Wit T. Wisniewski, Eliane G. Alves, Raimundo C. Oliveira Junior, Scott R. Saleska

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Both plant physiology and atmospheric chemistry are substantially altered by the emission of volatile isoprenoids (VI), such as isoprene and monoterpenes, from plant leaves. Yet, since gaining scientific attention in the 1950’s, empirical research on leaf VI has been largely confined to laboratory experiments and atmospheric observations. Here, we introduce a new field instrument designed to bridge the scales from leaf to atmosphere, by enabling precision VI detection in real time from plants in their natural ecological setting. With a field campaign in the Brazilian Amazon, we reveal an unexpected distribution of leaf emission capacities (EC) across the vertical axis of the forest canopy, with EC peaking in the mid-canopy instead of the sun-exposed canopy surface, and moderately high emissions occurring in understory specialist species. Compared to the simple interpretation that VI protect leaves from heat stress at the hot canopy surface, our results encourage a more nuanced view of the adaptive role of VI in plants. We infer that forest emissions to the atmosphere depend on the dynamic microenvironments imposed by canopy structure, and not simply on canopy surface conditions. We provide a new emissions inventory from 52 tropical tree species, revealing moderate consistency in EC within taxonomic groups. We highlight priorities in leaf volatiles research that require field-portable detection systems. Our self-contained, portable instrument provides real-time detection and live measurement feedback with precision and detection limits better than 0.5 nmolVI m–2leaf s–1. We call the instrument ‘PORCO’ based on the gas detection method: photoionization of organic compounds. We provide a thorough validation of PORCO and demonstrate its capacity to detect ecologically driven variation in leaf emission rates and thus accelerate a nascent field of science: the ecology and ecophysiology of plant volatiles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number668228
JournalFrontiers in Forests and Global Change
StatePublished - Jul 9 2021


  • atmospheric chemistry
  • cuvette
  • detection
  • ecophysiology
  • forest structure
  • isoprene
  • microenvironment
  • volatile organic compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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