Ozone pollution in the lower atmosphere is known to have adverse effects on forest vegetation, but the degree to which mature forests are impacted has been very difficult to assess directly. In this study, we combined leaf‐level ozone response data from independent ozone fumigation studies with a forest ecosystem model in order simulate the effects of ambient ozone on mature hardwood forests. Reductions in leaf carbon gain were determined as a linear function of ozone flux to the leaf interior, calculated as the product of ozone concentration and leaf stomatal conductance. This relationship was applied to individual canopy layers within the model in order to allow interaction with stand‐ and canopy‐level factors such as light attenuation, leaf morphology, soil water limitations, and vertical ozone gradients.

The resulting model was applied to 64 locations across the northeastern United States using ambient ozone data from 1987 to 1992. Predicted declines in annual net primary production ranged from 3 to 16% with greatest reductions in southern portions of the region where ozone levels were highest, and on soils with high water‐holding capacity where drought stress was absent. Reductions in predicted wood growth were slightly greater (3–22%) because wood is a lower carbon allocation priority in the model than leaf and root growth. Interannual variation in predicted ozone effects was small due to concurrent fluctuations in ozone and climate. Periods of high ozone often coincided with hot, dry weather conditions, causing reduced stomatal conductance and ozone uptake. Within‐canopy ozone concentration gradients had little effect on predicted growth reductions because concentrations remained high through upper canopy layers where net carbon assimilation and ozone uptake were greatest.

Sensitivity analyses indicate a trade‐off between model sensitivity to available soil water and foliar nitrogen and demonstrate uncertainties regarding several assumptions used in the model. Uncertainties surrounding ozone effects on stomatal function and plant water use efficiency were found to have important implications on current predictions. Field measurements of ozone effects on mature forests will be needed before the accuracy of model predictions can be fully assessed.


Earth Systems Research Center

Publication Date


Journal Title

Ecological Applications


Ecological Society of America (ESA)

Document Type



© 1997 by the Ecological Society of America.


This is an article published by Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Ecological Applications in 1997, available online:[1237:SOEOFP]2.0.CO;2