Biogenic hydrocarbon emissions and landcover/climate change in a subtropical savanna

A. Guenther, S. Archer, J. Greenberg, P. Harley, D. Helmig, L. Klinger, L. Vierling, M. Wildermuth, P. Zimmerman, S. Zitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Biogenic non-methane hydrocarbon (NMHC) emissions strongly influence the chemical composition of the troposphere. Thus, variations in emissions of these compounds are expected to cause changes in concentrations of important atmospheric trace gases. Here, we assess the relative magnitude of potential changes in NMHC (e.g., isoprene and monoterpene) emissions using field flux measurements from a subtropical savanna parkland/thorn woodland site in conjunction with model predictions of climate and landcover change. NMHC emissions of about 40 plant species were characterized. Grasses, as a group, had low emission rates. Several common woody species had high emission rates. However, there was little evidence of emissions being consistently related to woody plant taxonomy, growthform or functional groups. Above-canopy measurements were used to validate modeled isoprene flux predictions of about 2 mg C m-2 h-1 for savanna parkland/thorn woodland and ca. 0.7 mg C m-2 h-1 for the regional landscape, which is a mixture of savanna parkland/thorn woodland and cropland. Linkage of the biogenic emissions model with a plant succession model indicated that landcover change since the early 1800s has elicited a 3-fold increase in total NMHC emissions. This increase reflected changes in vegetation species composition (from domination by grasses which were typically 'low emitters', to shrubs and trees, many of which were 'high emitters') and increases in foliar density. Field measurements on two common shrub species indicated that isoprene emission increased exponentially with increases in leaf temperature from 20 to 40°C and were not suppressed by drought stress. Accordingly, our model predicted that projected increases in ambient temperature (3 to 6°C) emissions could produce a 2-fold increase in biogenic NMHC emissions. Cloud cover, precipitation, relative humidity, and winds also exerted some control over NMHC emissions, but their influence was highly variable and difficult to estimate. Although our results are specific to southern Texas USA, they indicate the magnitude of change in NMHC emissions that could occur at other locations when climate and vegetation composition are altered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)659-667
Number of pages9
JournalPhysics and Chemistry of the Earth, Part B: Hydrology, Oceans and Atmosphere
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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