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Ozone May Not Hurt Natural Ecosystems and Plants as Much as Previously Thought

First Posted: Feb 27, 2016 05:43 AM EST

What effect does ozone have on the environment? Scientists have found that ozone doesn't necessarily promote the decline of natural ecosystems.

While ozone is essential to the health of the Earth in the upper atmosphere, where it shields the surface from excess ultraviolet radiation, the chemical in high concentrations at surface level is hazardous to human and animal health and to many species of plant life. Ozone becomes more abundant at the surface during the summertime as plants grow and produce chemics, such as isoprene, that react with the hydroxyl radical and nitiric oxide to produce ozone.

In this latest study, the researchers decided to see how ozone impacts the growth of plants and natural systems. They used a computer model of forest growth and production that was well-tested in a variety of ecosystems. In the end, they found that ozone changes the relative abundance of tree species, but that overall ecosystem productivity and the ability of the ecosystem to store carbon do not change the face of ozone pollution.

"This is a rare piece of good news in the ozone and ecology story," said Manuel Lerdau, one of the researchers, in a news release.

With that said, the results don't mean that the ozone's impacts can be dismissed or ignored. However, they do suggest that the impacts will be more in the realm of species composition and less at the scale of forest function.

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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