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Plant Family-Specific Impacts of Petroleum Pollution on Biodiversity and Leaf Chlorophyll Content in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.

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posted on 2017-01-23, 16:13 authored by Paul Arellano, Kevin Tansey, Heiko Balzter, M. Tellkamp
In recent decades petroleum pollution in the tropical rainforest has caused significant environmental damage in vast areas of the Amazon region. At present the extent of this damage is not entirely clear. Little is known about the specific impacts of petroleum pollution on tropical vegetation. In a field expedition to the Ecuadorian Amazon over 1100 leaf samples were collected from tropical trees in polluted and unpolluted sites. Plant families were identified for 739 of the leaf samples and compared between sites. Plant biodiversity indices show a reduction of the plant biodiversity when the site was affected by petroleum pollution. In addition, reflectance and transmittance were measured with a field spectroradiometer for every leaf sample and leaf chlorophyll content was estimated using reflectance model inversion with the radiative tranfer model PROSPECT. Four of the 15 plant families that are most representative of the ecoregion (Melastomataceae, Fabaceae, Rubiaceae and Euphorbiaceae) had significantly lower leaf chlorophyll content in the polluted areas compared to the unpolluted areas. This suggests that these families are more sensitive to petroleum pollution. The polluted site is dominated by Melastomataceae and Rubiaceae, suggesting that these plant families are particularly competitive in the presence of pollution. This study provides evidence of a decrease of plant diversity and richness caused by petroleum pollution and of a plant family-specific response of leaf chlorophyll content to petroleum pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon using information from field spectroscopy and radiative transfer modelling.


This research has been funded by the principal author and had an important contribution of the SENESCYT (National Secretariat for Science and Technology of Ecuador). SENESCYT-Ecuador granted a scholarship to Paul Arellano for his doctoral studies. H. Balzter was supported by the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award, 2011/R3 and the NERC National Centre for Earth Observation.



PLoS ONE (2017) 12(1): e0169867.

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING/Department of Geography/GIS and Remote Sensing


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Data is available upon request due to legal restriction. The principal author, Dr. Paul Arellano, PhD, is the person that readers may contact to request the data, and a confirmation that data will be available upon request to all interested researchers.



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