Trichloroacetic acid cycling in Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) saplings and the effects on tree health following long term exposure.

05 October 2005

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA, CCl3COOH) has been associated with forest damage but the source of TCA to trees is poorly characterised. To investigate the routes and effects of TCA uptake in conifers, 120 Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carr) saplings were exposed to control, 10 or 100 μg l−1 solutions of TCA applied twice weekly to foliage only or soil only over two consecutive 5-month growing seasons. At the end of each growing season similar elevated TCA concentrations (approximate range 200–300 ng g−1 dwt) were detected in both foliage and soil-dosed saplings exposed to 100 μg l−1 TCA solutions showing that TCA uptake can occur from both exposure routes. Higher TCA concentrations in branchwood of foliage-dosed saplings suggest that atmospheric TCA in solution is taken up indirectly into conifer needles via branch and stemwood. TCA concentrations in needles declined slowly by only 25–30% over 6 months of winter without dosing. No effect of TCA exposure on sapling growth was measured during the experiment. However at the end of the first growing season needles of saplings exposed to 10 or 100 μg l−1 foliage-applied TCA showed significantly more visible damage, higher activities of some detoxifying enzymes, lower protein contents and poorer water control than needles of saplings dosed with the same TCA concentrations to the soil. At the end of each growing season the combined TCA storage in needles, stemwood, branchwood and soil of each sapling was <6% of TCA applied. Even with an estimated half-life of tens of days for within-sapling elimination of TCA during the growing season, this indicates that TCA is eliminated rapidly before uptake or accumulates in another compartment. Although TCA stored in sapling needles accounted for only a small proportion of TCA stored in the sapling/soil system it appears to significantly affect some measures of sapling health.