Ozone depletion by anthropogenic gases has increased the atmospheric transmission of solar ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B, 280–315 nm). Our understanding of the consequencences of enhanced UV-B levels on primary producers has grown dramatically over the past 20 years, but it has been hampered by how realistically experimental UV-B exposures mimic ozone-depletion scenarios. Overcoming these shortcomings will require sophisticated and creative approaches. Biological weighting functions and solar spectral irradiance estimates are critical in evaluating effects and require more attention. Whereas UV screening compounds in terrestrial and aquatic producers commonly increase with UV-B exposure, the implications, while potentially far reaching, are unclear. Photosynthesis is more sensitive to UV-B in phytoplankton than in terrestrial plants, probably owing to less effective screening in phytoplankton. Productivity of terrestrial plants is usually unaffected by enhanced UV-B, although reduced growth has been observed and may increase in magnitude over successive years. Aquatic productivity is often compromised by short-term exposures to enhanced UV-B, and long-term assessments are complicated by the dynamic nature of aquatic systems and by nonlinear responses. Recent work examining UV-B effects on multiple trophic levels suggests that outcomes will be diverse and difficult to predict. Such effects may lead to feedbacks on primary producers.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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