Biological aspects of constructing volatile organic compound emission inventories

Russell K. Monson, Manuel T. Lerdau, Thomas D. Sharkey, David S. Schimel, Ray Fall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


The: emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vegetation is subject to numerous biological controls. Past inventories have relied heavily on empirical models which are limited in their ability to simulate the response of organisms to short- and long-term changes in their growth environment. In this review we consider the principal biochemical, physiological and ecological controls over VOC emission with specific reference to how such controls can be included in ecosystem-level inventories. A distinction is made between longer-term biological controls over basal VOC emission rates (rates determined under a standard set of environmental conditions) and instantaneous biological and environmental controls over instantaneous VOC emission rates (rates determined at the prevailing, instantaneous set of environmental conditions). Emphasis is placed on the emission of isoprene and monoterpenes. Isoprene emission occurs essentially without a leaf reservoir and is tightly linked to instantaneous photosynthetic metabolism and the activity of isoprene synthase, the enzyme that underlies isoprene production. At present, there are still large uncertainties about which of these controls dominates isoprene emission rate. Ecosystem-level inventories of isoprene emission would be best handled through consideration of (1) the early season induction of isoprene emission, (2) seasonal and spatial variability in light, nitrogen and water availability and their influences on the basal emission rate, and (3) the influence of instantaneous changes in light and temperature on the basal emission rate. Monoterpene emission occurs from a large leaf reservoir, is uncoupled from instantaneous controls over biosynthesis, and is likely linked to whole-plant carbon allocation patterns. Because of the well-defined role of monoterpenes as herbivore deterrents and their linkage to plant carbon balance, there is promise for ecosystem-level inventories based on biological resource allocation models and evolutionary cost-benefit models. Biological sources for several other VOCs have been identified, including methanol, methylbutenol, hexenol, acetone, and formic and acetic acids. However, the controls over these emissions have yet to be determined, and there is no current basis for mechanistic inventory development. From the studies reviewed here we conclude that the incorporation of mechanistic biological controls in future VOC inventories will improve their capacity to predict emissions across complex ecological gradients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2989-3002
Number of pages14
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1995


  • Monoterpenes
  • NMHC
  • biochemistry
  • ecology
  • ecosystem models
  • hydrocarbon emission
  • isoprene
  • physiology
  • plant carbon balance
  • vegetation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Atmospheric Science


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